Las Vegas Review-Journal: Jason Bracelin: 18th March 2014.
The only thing nonchalant about the man wielding his guitar like a scythe, slashing forth as if he was reaping songs from thin air, was the way he chomped his gum between tunes.
Elvis Costello is wound tight, and as such, his tunes can come spiriting out of him like air from a punctured tire, suddenly freed from confinement.
His voice is like a balloon in a windstorm, flying every which way, untethered from any mooring.
It behooves him then, to collaborate with a band as firmly embedded in the pocket as Philly hip-hop-soul troupe The Roots, who are skilled at summoning grooves as thick and steadfast as quick-setting concrete and capable of anchoring pretty much anything.
On Sunday, Elvis Costello and The Roots took the stage together for the second performance of a two-night engagement at the Brooklyn Bowl, a new venue with an old look via exposed duct work and brick walls.
If the Brooklyn Bowl decor has something of a throwback feel to it, so did this performance, which touched upon Costello’s proto-punk past as well as the roots of The Roots: powerhouse ’70s R&B.
“You ready?” Costello asked four tunes into the two-hour, 18-song set.
It wasn’t a question so much as a warning, posed twice within the span of three songs.
“Are you ready?” he repeated himself not long thereafter, right before the band leaned into “Come the Meantimes,” one of eight songs culled from “Wise Up Ghost,” the 2013 record that Costello and The Roots cut together.
Like many of the songs the band performed, it began on a low simmer, with tendrils of guitar and roiling percussion slowly bringing everything to a boil.
By tune’s end, Costello was leading the crowd in a loud, lusty call and response.
This was the preferred trajectory of the evening.
On “Stick Out Your Tongue,” Costello scrunched up his face into the pained mask of a man attempting to pass a kidney stone, his voice an emotive counterpoint to a hypnotic, repetitive guitar figure; on “Watching The Detectives” he brandished a bullhorn, turning on its siren to further heighten the bedlam on the already squawking jam.
Countering the rancor was singer Marisol “La Marisoul” Hernandez of Mexican-American band La Santa Cecilia, who joined the group for a handful of numbers, the most arresting of which was “Cincos Minutos con Vos,” the only song of the show to feature Roots MC Black Thought.
With Hernandez providing the song’s bewitching initial vocal hook, Black Thought countered with harrowing rhymes that knifed through the buttery grooves with a palpable sense of purpose.
Speaking of which, a similarly business-minded approach was embraced by everyone on curt, clipped early Costello numbers “Black and White World,” “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and a raucous, show-closing “Pump It Up.”
Elsewhere, the band took its time teasing the funk out of songs such as “Shabby Doll,” “Spooky Girlfriend,” where Costello’s voice was akin to an elevator shuttling between floors, and “I Want You,” where Roots guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas worked himself into such a fever, soloing on his back atop a stage monitor at one point, that he could be seen wiping the sweat from his eyes at song’s end.
These contrasting styles converged during a cover of the socially aware ska of The Specials’ “Ghost Town.”
The song belonged to neither The Roots nor Costello (though Costello produced the album on which it was originally released).
But, as was the case with all partes involved on this evening, they found a way to make it their own.