10 May 2007

elvis costello & the imposters

Elvis Costello is important. Everybody knows it. It's true. Just last year I was standing around waiting for my kid at the house of one of his friends when I saw, on top of a stack of stuff to be returned to the library, a copy of This Year's Model, the Rhino re-release. I was looking at it when the mom walked up. I asked who was checking out EC. She said that she had picked it out for her daughter to listen to because "you know, Elvis Costello is so important she should know who he is." I nodded and thought, yeah he is, but although I couldn't put my finger on exactly why...it felt more than a little weird. I recalled that weirdness and felt it amplified at the Elvis Costello show at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver last Sunday. The tee-shirts hanging in the merch booth said "30:10" and next to it was a little sign explaining the meaning of this: thirty years, re-releasing the first ten. And indeed it was the theme of the night. Drums, keys, guitar and an almost audible bass dialed it back to 1977 starting out the show with "Welcome to the Working Week" the first song on the great My Aim is True. The cover of that album, with the checkerboard pattern spelling out a repeating message of "ELVIS IS KING" and the indelible image of EC in that knock-kneed pose, signature chunky black glasses and cradling his Fender, was retro-50s in the 70s and now thirty years later, I wonder what it is now...retro retro? Because here we were in 2007 hearing the old songs rolling: "Less than Zero" "Watching the Detectives" "Alison" off My Aim is True; "Lipstick Vogue" "The Beat" "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" off This Year's Model. Looking around it was clear that all the songs are very familiar both with the portion of the crowd who looked like they might've caught the songs the first time around and the younger set who's just getting to them. They are great songs and the talent on the stage wasn't lacking in delivering them. But just as much as they are great songs, and ones I have listened to in recent years, there was a weirdness in hearing them delivered live, as the focus of the show. The Imposters are not out to promote Elvis's new stuff, they are out on the road to play the old stuff. And that feels a little like trying to re-kindle a love affair with your sixteen-year old crush. I know there's no shortage of artists touring on their old great stuff and they have every reason and right to do so. If there's re-hashing going on the original artists should be the first in line to cash in on the interest. Especially artists who were underappreciated in their time but became "musician's musicians" and got fabulously popular after their time. It's not new either. Seen it before and sometimes actually had fun with it. But though I was glad to see him again, I for one couldn't enjoy the nostalgia on this particular night in spite of my love of old Elvis songs.

1 comment:

Mike + Stacey Duncan said...

I am a huge fan of EC, I consider him just as important as Bob Dylan however twice as cynical. Your notice of this trend in his work is very true, even the Momofuku album was an effort to capture a bit of that punk sneer he carried in the old days. In reality however I think the Juliet Letters was the turning point for him. He learned to read sheet music and understood theory, now his attempts to recapture that zealousness that comes from uninformed fervor however good, are not the same. I still think that he lands a home run, the music is great, but you can't go home again. He is in a different place now, and when I look at records like The Delivery Man, Brutal Youth, or even Momofuku I can appreciate their complexity. He didn't have that in the beginning, but now it is just another gun in the arsenal.
I still love all the old tunes and when I see him live, I love the old just as much as I do the new but there is no denying the difference.

Anyway I'm rambling.