Elvis Costello Goes Baroque to the Future With ‘Imperial Bedroom’ Show

Variety: Chris Willman: June 5th 2017.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters “The Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers Tour” Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, June 4

While the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is making headlines, a slightly lesser hysteria is greeting the 35th anniversary of Elvis Costello’s “Imperial Bedroom” album, which the artist is celebrating with a tour themed around the 1982 release. If the two anniversaries are not being commemorated with quite the same level of publicity, they are not completely unrelated events. A kingly gig Sunday night at L.A.’s Greek Theatre offered cause to consider a little bit of shared DNA.

The singer was certainly indulging his Beatles fanboy side when he hired the engineer of “Sgt. Pepper,” Geoff Emerick, to produce “Imperial Bedroom.” (At Sunday’s concert, Costello also mentioned in passing running into Paul McCartney at the recording studio, a few years before they started writing songs together.) And just as the Beatles were putting their moptop side away once and for all with “Pepper,” Costello was making a break from his fast-and-furious beginnings and going for baroque with “Bedroom” — even if some of his followers, seemingly taking a cue from the Woody Allen fans who preferred the early, funny stuff, never completely got over favoring Elvis’ early, primitivist stuff. As Costello told the Greek crowd, he’d gone from making his first album in 24 hours to spending 12 weeks in the studio: “We thought, ‘Now we’re really living — we’ve hit the big time.’ We hired an orchestra for Steve to arrange for. We hired a harpsichord; we had no idea what to do with it. We bought an accordion, and none of us could play it, so it took three of us to wrestle it into submission.”

One big difference (well, among others): The Beatles basically gave up live performance so they could make albums like “Sgt. Pepper.” Costello had neither the luxury nor the inclination for that, so he had the burden of recreating the “Imperial” songs in concert — something that worked fine with the rockier numbers, like “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out of Time,” and also the easiest to strip down, “Almost Blue,” to name the three songs that have remained set staples. But a lot of others basically went unplayed for three and a half decades, and not just because of the difficulty of bringing an orchestra on the road or adding a harpsichordist to the Attractions, but probably also because so many of the album’s songs had him layering his own vocal lines atop one another in a way that’s impossible to duplicate live.