Elvis Costello & The Imposters at the Colston Hall

Bristol Post: Mark Taylor: July 18th 2016

After stand-out performances from the likes of US-born country legends Lucinda Williams and Mary Chapin Carpenter, it was left to London-born Elvis Costello to wrap up the hugely successful three-day Bristol Americana Weekend.

During a career spanning five decades, Costello has regularly returned to the American-influenced country music that first inspired him, most notably with his 1981 Nashville-recorded Almost Blue, an album that came with a tongue-in-cheek label warning for his new wave fans that "This album contains country & western music and may cause offence to narrow minded listeners".

In the first quarter of this 135-minute performance, Costello cherry-picked from Almost Blue, with a foot-stomping, thigh-slapping version of Merle Haggard's Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down and a romping version of Don Gibson's Sweet Dreams, with ace keyboard player Steve Nieve (like veteran drummer Pete Thomas, a member of Costello's original band The Attractions) playing some breakneck barrelhouse piano that temporarily transformed the Colston Hall into a 1930s Texas whorehouse.

Costello has lived in America for the past three decades and his Liverpool accent has all but dissolved into an American drawl, which suited the more recent material like Alibi and Stations of The Cross.

He may have emigrated to the United States when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister but his edgy political pop shows no sign of softening with age. At 61, he's the eternal angry young man of pop.

After quips about Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, he showcased two new songs, A Face In The Crowd and American Mirror, which are from a forthcoming stage musical based on the Budd Schulberg story, Your Arkansas Traveller.

The story may date from the 1950s but many of the themes and messages are as relevant as they are today, which can also be said for other early Costello songs dusted off tonight.

Written in 1978, his dig at facism and racism, Sunday's Best, may sound like a gentle waltz with Nieve's brilliant piano playing, but the biting lyrics could be referring to the news of the past few weeks ('Times are tough for English babies, send the army and the navy, Beat up strangers who talk funny, Take their greasy foreign money').

And then there was a slow, freestyle jazz version of his Falkands war song Shipbuilding, written in 1982 but chillingly relevant with this week's Trident debate.

Not that it was all downbeat or political. There were plenty of lighter moments for those fans simply wanting to hear the classic 70s and 80s hits, even Costello's take on Charles Aznavour's She (a song he admitted the band now hate and only play because the audience likes it).

With chat kept to a minimum, the hits kept on coming with relentless ferocity, the band barely stopping for breath between songs, among them Pump It Up, Watching The Detectives, Radio Radio, Green Shirt, Oliver's Army and (I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea.

Sweat-drenched but still pumped up, Costello launched into the Nick Lowe-penned (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding before finally taking their final bow after two and a quarter hours of pure class and musicianship that brought the Bristol Americana Weekend to a rousing, foot-tapping finale.