https://www.nj.com/expo/life-and-cultur ... nt-pu.htmlElvis Costello just couldn't pull himself away from the N.J. stage: review
Elvis Costello's latest tour, in support of an acclaimed new LP released last month by the songwriting icon, requires two modes of consumption from its audience.
The first is more familiar, albeit infrequent in this particular roadshow: the get-up-and-clap exuberance Costello has conjured from his fans since the late '70s and again harnessed Tuesday night in Asbury Park -- his first time playing the city since 2002. The Paramount Theatre crowd was on its feet and bopping to foregone post-punk staples "This Year's Girl" (which opened the set), "(The Angels Want To Wear My) Red Shoes," and "High Fidelity," among a few others.
But this performance was ultimately defined by a second, more dominant tone, one of higher concept and deeper melancholy. Despite his possession of enough classic, Attractions-era material to fill a week's-worth of setlists, Costello gave his new record, called "Look Now," its due place in the Jersey Shore spotlight, running through 10 of the 12 new tracks that ranged from slow-burning chamber pop to moodier soul. Some were written with longtime collaborator Burt Bacharach, one was written with Carole King, and nearly all were downtempo and suggested the audience of about 1,500 sit a spell and absorb the tunes' collective story, both of female protagonists and Costello's own path to 2018, surviving a bout with cancer earlier this year, and weaving together an album that echoes the technical and melodic prowess of his 1982 masterstroke, "Imperial Bedroom."
Costello, 64, performed several of these tunes without his guitar, meandering around the weathered stage in a black button-down and jacket and sunglasses in a crooner-like state. These songs exposed a voice that has mostly held up well over the decades, still maintaining its patently nasal, petulant edge, but now with a more measured vibrato and rasp. If you do check out the new album, go for the layered King collab "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter" and the terrific album opener "Under Lime," which feels most like vintage Costello.
The audience was patient with the fresh material and all the starts and stops it created between buoyant oldies and the more methodical new tunes. They appropriately whooped when something they actually recognized was brought to the fold and delivered by Costello, his three-piece Imposters -- keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, of the original Attractions, and bassist Davey Faragher -- plus two towering female background singers.
An extended mid-set jam of "Watching The Detectives," with Costello brightly shredding a spacey solo under green spotlight, was a clear highlight and there was an added electricity when Costello began an acoustic cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise," with many surely wondering if The Boss -- a longtime stage-mate of Costello -- might make an appearance (he was off from Broadway Tuesday night).
Bruce never came out, but Costello seemed unable to tear himself away from the Asbury stage, returning for three encores and stretching the performance to a gaudy two and a half hours by the time he hit the last chord on "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." The final of these three curtain calls was the best, with Costello plinking a Steinway and Nieve on accompanying keys for "A Face In The Crowd" and "Blood And Hot Sauce," two tracks written for a musical that never made it to stage. Costello truly wailed on these, saving his best vocal performance for last, and earned a standing ovation from the crowd.
While Costello is perhaps most commonly thought of as the godfather of sardonic rockers -- anyone considered a first-wave punk groundbreaker probably deserves such a label -- his Tuesday performance was laden with sincerity and conviction: it's obvious he deeply believes in this new music. And if one of the most consistently excellent songwriters of the last 40 years is excited about something, you should be, too.
Since you put me down, it seems i've been very gloomy. You may laugh but pretty girls look right through me.