Centerline: November 15th 2016: Jim Bessman: Photo By Chalkie Davies
Elvis Costello's opening comment at his first of two Imperial Bedroom & Other Chambers SRO shows at the Beacon Theatre last week were ominously prescient.
"Who knows what kind of misery lurks within?" he slyly asked at the start of the Nov. 6 first show, then answered it the next night by starting the Election Eve show with "Night Rally," the chilling neo-Nazi nightmare from his second album This Year's Model (1978). But the focus of this tour, obviously, was his acclaimed 1982 album Imperial Bedroom, which he and his Imposters band (keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist/vocalist Davey Faragher), intermittently supported by backup singers Kitten Kuroi and YahZarah, performed in its entirety, with excellent song choices also from Costello's early period thrown into the mix.
Noting how he was all of 26 when he wrote most of the Imperial Bedroom songs, he also related how he never wrote "good love songs like Garth Brooks, Smokey Robinson or Cole Porter," that his love songs contained "a trap door in the third verse where everyone plunges" into the aforementioned lurking misery. But it was actually a lead-in to "Watchng the Detectives" from first album My Aim is True (1977), which utilized the same fabulous video of film noir movie posters used during his Detour tour a couple months ago with Larkin Poe, and which was followed here with Imperial Bedroom's "The Long Honeymoon" as a thematic companion piece.
Other songs were accompanied on the same overhead screen by playfully abstracted covers of Costello's album catalog, colored in and otherwise modified by the artist himself. The Imperial Bedroom standouts included the pairing of "Beyond Belief" and "Man Out of Time," "Almost Blue," "You Little Fool" and "Kid About It," which Costello said he wrote after hearing the news of Dec. 8, 1980—he didn't explain the date's significance as the night John Lennon died, nor did he have to.
Tops among the non-Imperial Bedroom material were "Green Shirt" from Armed Forces (1979), "High Fidelity," which brought the house on its feet the first night, and "King Horse" (both songs from 1979's Get Happy!!, the latter played both nights—and with Costello employing a right-handed overhead hook gesture toward the girls, signaling them to sing "ooh"), "Every Day I Write the Book" (the hit single from 1983's Punch the Clock, which likewise featured a pair of black female backup singers) and "Alison" (just Elvis on guitar with Kuroi and YahZarah). And "Shot With His Own Gun," from 1980's Trust, and a stunning set-piece with Nieve that earned the keyboardist his own standing-O.
Nieve and the girls also sparkled on "This House is Empty Now," from Costello's 1998 Painted From Memory album collaboration with Burt Bacharach. He encored with "Blood & Hot Sauch" and "American Mirror" from his current Broadway A Face in the Crowd project, both introduced at the Detour shows, with Costello playing piano. And he closed traditionally, with "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," written by Nick Lowe originally as a joke, but a serious anthem in Costello's version—in light of "Night Rally" and the next day's election results, one never more serious than now.