Elvis Costello and the Imposters performed in Berkeley last Saturday (June 3) as part of the "Imperial Bedroom & Other Chambers" tour, meaning that that album (minus two tracks) was the centerpiece of the concert, though there was plenty more to it than that. It could've been called the "My Aim is to Please" tour, because this gig was aimed right at the heart of fanatical fans of his primo work.
I mean, the surprise jolt of "King Horse" late in the set reminded me how great that track is -- and it was followed by "You Little Fool" and a "Pidgin English" that dazzled with a soulful coda (thanks to two back-up singers who added real value to the show) and a fantastic keyboard part by Steve Nieve, whose contributions to Costello's music over the decades cannot be overestimated. (It's hard to find an equivalent to Nieve in rock; he's somewhat like the George Martin of the Imposters/Attractions, responsible for so much of the stuff I return to in the E.C. oeuvre.)
At one point at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, during a knock-out "Shot With His Own Gun," Nieve's piano work evoked spontaneous applause from the crowd mid-song. There were even whoops from fans gathered in the hills above the theater, where I heard it.
Almost everything was a highlight in this meaty, no-fat show. "You'll Never Be a Man" was played to perfection; "Green Shirt" was tense and intense until that melodic figure at the end; "Beyond Belief" was rockin'. And Costello gave "Indoor Fireworks" a country arrangement that made it work better than ever.
All the while, Costello told entertaining tales about "Imperial Bedroom," now 35 years old, the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band" of the new wave/punk era.
As I noted on my Facebook page on June 4th at 9:35pm -- a unique point later echoed by the trade publication Variety in a review posted on June 5th at around 2pm -- the additional vocalists were perfect for singing overlapping vocal parts Costello himself sang and overdubbed in the studio for such songs as "And in Every Home," "Kid About It" and "Pidgin English." (Replicating the album's overdubs and main vocal in real time in concert worked better when split among multiple singers. When he tried to sing every part himself, there were occasional vocal timing problems.)
And the setlist was nearly flawless (though I was sort of hoping for "Imperial" outtakes like "Stamping Ground" and "The Town Where Time Stood Still" and "Seconds of Pleasure"). (Even better would've been "Invisible Man," which sounds like a later draft of the latter.) And when Costello introduced Steve Nieve at the end of the show, Nieve -- musically witty as always -- slipped in a few bars of Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin's banned 1969 hit "Je T'aime (moi non plus)." I wonder how many others caught the reference?
It's been a while since I enjoyed a concert this much.