Oakland Press: Gary Graff: October 31st 2016
ANN ARBOR -- Elvis Costello’s last scheduled appearance at the Michigan Theater, back in the summer of 2014, was a solo affair. And he lost his voice after the second song -- though he did return that September to make good on the date.
But the veteran British singer and songwriter was in full voice and fiery from on Sunday, Oct. 30, when he came back to the Michigan, this time with his band the Imposters, for a high-octane, conceptually satisfying epic of a show.
Costello’s Imperial Bedroom & Other Chambers tour is celebrating his 1982 “Imperial Bedroom” album, a widely acknowledged masterwork in his nearly 40-year catalog, but not in the way most artists commemorate key albums. Rather than playing it in its entirety and front-to-back, Costello and company mixed most of its songs into a two-hour and 15-minute, 27-song set, framing and contextualizing them amidst favorites from Costello’s releases between 1977-83. The result was, essentially, an Elvis Costello & the Attractions greatest hits show -- and rest assured nobody in the nearly sold out crowd was complaining about that.
Costello and the Imposters -- which included Attractions veterans Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums, along with bassist Davey Faragher and two female backing vocalists -- came out storming, romping through Allen Toussaint’s “On The Way Down” and an R&B-flavored “Lipstick Vogue” before taking a first trip into the “Bedroom” with the bouncy “The Loved Ones.” Costello, sporting a dark suit and dark pink fedora, introduced many of the night’s songs with brief anecdotes; he recalled a surreal cab adventure into Mexico, “before there was a wall or anything,” during the late 70s before playing “Accidents Will Happen,” and before a bluesy treatment of “Tears Before Bedtime” he revealed that despite some characteristically dark lyrics, he “thought we’d made a bright, summery record like the Monkees” with “Imperial Bedroom.”
For fans it was a dream troll deep into “Imperial Bedroom” for tracks such as “Shabby Doll,” “Pidgin English,” “You Little Fool,” “Human Hands,” the gentle “Town Cryer” and the Beatlesque “...And In Every Home.” The deft pairing of “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out Of Time” neatly fused that album’s two best tracks, while “Alison,” sung by Costello and the two backing singers only and morphing, as usual, into the Miracles’ “Tracks Of My Tears,” was a moving high point.
The show roared to a close with an extended rendition of “Everyday I Write The Book” -- Costello’s first single after “Imperial Bedroom” -- a stomping “Pump It Up,” during which Costello played piano when his guitar cord malfunctioned, and the anthemic “What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” whose resonance nine days before the election was so clear he didn’t even make any references.
It was a stirring celebration of a strong body of work -- stunning, really, when you consider it represented just a six-year span that produced seven albums. And it was just as impressive that Costello and his cohorts could still deliver it with the passion, energy and ferocity they displayed on Sunday in Ann Arbor.