Tom Strini

Elvis Costello at the BMO Harris Pavilion

Elvis Costello and the Imposters pack a rock 'n' roll punch outdoors on Saturday night.

By - Sep 16th, 2012 02:59 am

Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello and the Imposters are one tight band, tight as a clenched fist. Saturday night at the BMO Harris Pavilion, they opened with a flurry of songs, each compact and potent as a short, quick left jab.

Costello and his three mates stopped just long enough for him to say “How you all doin’ tonight?” Before the crowd could answer, Elvis commenced Round 2, another tight set of more up tempo and driving beats. Costello’s guitar solos and Steve Nieve’s keyboard flights stood out just a little from the force of Pete Thomas’ drums and Dave Faragher’s bass. Their communal sound came at you as a unit. Together, they ramped up the intensity gradually and relentlessly in almost every number.

Costello’s pugilist sense of rhythm makes him one of rock’s all-time great singers. He bobs, weaves and feints with his rhythm, delaying here, jabbing there, poking in syllables just ahead or behind the beat, where you don’t expect them. That’s how they hit home and keep you on your toes. That jumpy rhythmic unpredictability gives  Costello’s singing its edge. Like a boxer, he waits for just the right opening to let fly the haymaker — the long, ardent, lyric line, where the aggressiveness and cynicism fall away, and he moves you — notably, Saturday, in Every Day I Write the Book.

And he moves fast. Costello — a coiled spring of a stage presence — crammed 22 songs into a 90-minute concert. In most cases, he counted off the rhythm for the next tune before the last one ended. Sometimes, the last chord in one tune did double duty as the first chord in the next one. These guys couldn’t bother with banter. They had music to play, including:

Electric blues with deep, heavy grooves (Stations of the Cross); a version of the classic Watching the Detectives, in which Costello channeled Duane Eddy‘s twangy guitar; an intriguing Latin tune with a tango vibe that, lacking a set list or comprehensible lyrics, I couldn’t identify — Clubland, perhaps; and a very country cover of Johnny Cash’s Cry, Cry, Cry.

The gospel-inflected The River in Reverse and the tender I’ll Take Care of You, played continuously as a set, was my favorite number of the concert and also the most anomalous. In an evening crackling with short, punchy songs, River/I’ll Take Care rolled on expansively. And in an evening in which a bass and drum-heavy mix obliterated nearly all of Costello’s striking, poetic lyrics, lighter textures and lower volume allowed most of the words to come through. I’ll leave you with a few of them. The song about strife and social breakdown made the song about the safety of unconditional love all the more beautiful in both sound and sentiment.

Wake me up

Wake me up

Wake me up with a slap or a kiss

There must be something better than this

Wake me up

Wake me up with a slap or a kiss

There must be something better than this.


Just as sure as one and one is two

I’ll take good care of you

I’ll take good care of you

I’ll take good care of you

Take good care of you

I’ll take good care of you.


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