Elvis Costello and the Imposters
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Better than: Sunday night cartoons.
You should know that your reviewer was not, at first, a fan: "So he sings with that voice on purpose?" Pretty rich coming from an apologist for both Donald Fagen and Geddy Lee. But this was long ago, in high school, with much yet to be learned. That first Elvis Costello exposure, tellingly proselytized by a pal with a perfect verbal on the S.A.T., came again to mind Sunday night at the Warfield, entrance to which required passing through the adolescence-redolent Market Street scene of chess masters sitting solemnly in clouds of skunky weed smoke and b.o.
Furthermore, your reviewer was coming from a genteel and soporific wine country weekend, admittedly fighting an urge to just stay in and watch Family Guy. But from the early looks of the Warfield crowd, so was everybody else. To say so is just to acknowledge that some domestication has occurred since Costello's own salad days of spitting tuneful accusations and spazzing around, and there's no denying the vague correlation between having married Diana Krall at Elton John's castle and needing to get "Watching the Detectives" out of the way early on.
Fears of rote, out-to-pasture punk were dismissed early on. The man can put on a show -- or in this case a Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour, with fans invited onstage to derive the evening's set list from a big bright roulette wheel full of songs and subjects. Taking up top hat and cane, he'd introduced himself as Napoleon Dynamite, and it felt all right to imagine that anyone inferring some random Jon Heder reference was present only on account of being brought by parents imposing a history lesson. True, this game-show-cabaret routine, reiterated from his own act of 25 years ago, might look like a way of outsourcing the entertainment labor. But in fact it gave the night a nice balance of spontaneity and directional momentum -- palpably enjoyed by the maestro and impressively managed by a shrewdly people-wrangling pair of go-go dancers.
His Imposters -- Davey Faragher on bass; Steve Nieve, keyboards; Pete Thomas, drums -- also were in good supportive form, accommodating an initially muddy mix and Costello's sometimes clotted guitar solos with sturdy aplomb. Together they plowed through a full array of fierce rockers, crooner ballads, and things in between ("Everyday I Write the Book," having dried out some of its pop sap, has aged especially well), not to mention that great, rhythmically augmented take on Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go, plus a "Happy Birthday" by special request. With this material, this group would be ideal in a smaller and better sounding room -- but of course, deservedly, they draw a bigger room's crowd.