Judge Russell Engebretson never saw anything funny about peace, love, and understanding.
Elvis Costello and his band tear it up live in Memphis.
On September 17, 2004, Elvis Costello and the Imposters played at a club in Memphis, a very small venue for such a well-known band, to an audience of 200. Costello has dabbled in several musical genres (releasing albums with Burt Bacharach and the Brodsky Quartet, for example), but on this gig he doesn't stray far from his rock-and-roll roots. The crowd was treated to a broad selection of Costello's rock-and-roll standards dating back to his first album release, the 1977 new wave classic My Aim Is True. Costello succumbs to the usual tour practice of promoting the latest release, in this case with songs from The Deliveryman (recorded in Oxford, Mississippi), which comprise almost a third of the set.
Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, keyboardist and drummer respectively from the original Attractions, are playing with Costello, joined by bassist Davey Faragher (formerly of the alternative band Cracker). Also, guest Emmylou Harris takes the stage for five duets with Elvis Costello.
Songs were performed in the following order:
• Waiting for the End of the World
The band wisely kicks off the set with three de rigueur popular favorites (from Costello's first two albums) and receives the expected thunderous applause. They continue with "Blue Chair" from the Blood and Chocolate album, then launch into a couple of songs from The Deliveryman. A few highlights include "Bedlam," driven by hammering bass eighth notes overlaid by Costello's energetic R&B chording; "Monkey to Man," a simple but effective rocker; "The Monkey," another simian song, this one with a satiric bite ("One thing you'll never see is a monkey build a fence 'round a coconut tree"), played in Muddy Waters blues style—similar to "Mannish Boy"; "Hidden Charms," an intense rock-blues number that Costello picks with dirty glee on a piece-of-crap Fender knock-off with a warped neck; and a great rendition of "Blame It on Cain," which, according to Costello, is rarely played live. Also of note are the sweet and twanging country duets with Emmylou and Elvis (Emmylou Harris can do no wrong, and she brings a pleasing feminine presence to the all-male lineup). The encore includes a version of "Alison" that neatly segues into Presley's "Suspicious Minds," and explosively delivered arrangements of the perennial crowd pleasers "Peace Love and Understanding" and "Pump It Up."
The bonus songs are uniformly good—the driving punk-blues "Button My Lip" being the standout track—and they might as well have been included in the full set.
An unexpected treat was the 53-minute road trip documentary of Tad Pireson, billed as a "road ethnographer," cruising around and about Memphis, Tennessee; Oxford, Mississippi; and Helena, Arkansas with Elvis Costello and Pete Thomas in the back of his 1955 Cadillac, all filmed in the fashion of a "reality show" (a phantom cameraman is in the front passenger seat, and there are numerous shots from the outside of the car as it rolls down the streets and highways). Pireson expounds on local sights as he drives; for instance, he points out the juke joint The Three Forks Country Store (now the Blues Café), where legendary bluesman Robert Johnson was playing the night he was poisoned by a jealous husband. In addition to all the intriguing historical anecdotes, Costello and Thomas discuss their Motown, blues, and soul influences, visit the Stax Record museum, compare Helena to Liverpool, and provide continual off-the-cuff talk about their careers and musical philosophies. We also get to hear the story, among many others, of how Elvis Costello ran across the pitiful no-name guitar he used to record "Hidden Charms."
Costello acquired a somewhat bad reputation in the 1970s and '80s as an abrasive, rude bad-boy of rock. I don't know if the stories are yellow journalism, an accurate reflection of his character at that time, or something in between, but the image he projects in the documentary is one of a gracious, intelligent, easygoing fellow. Perhaps the rough edges have been smoothed by age. Whatever his personal attributes may be, the featurette of Costello's journey and commentary (along with Thomas and Pireson) is worth the price of the disc; even for the Elvis Costello newcomer it is a delightful piece of musical history.
The concert was filmed in high-definition video and recorded in surround sound (both Dolby 5.1 and 2.0, but no DTS). The video looks fine—decently edited with plenty of shots of all the band members—and the sound ranges from good to very good, though it is hardly of reference quality; the instruments don't always sound adequately separated, which imparts a slight murkiness to the mix at times. That's probably just one of the acoustic problems of recording live in a small night club, and should not detract from the overall decent sound quality.
I'm an old fan of Elvis Costello (at least up to his fifth album—and my favorite—the highly layered, slickly complex studio effort Imperial Bedroom), and I recommend this DVD without reservation to any fan; even the listener with only a casual interest might find this a good starting point for delving further into Costello's musical oeuvre.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Bonus Songs
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