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Stage Buzz Review: Elvis Costello & The Imposters • The Chicago Theatre

| November 4, 2021

Elvis Costello (Photo: Diana Krall)

Elvis Costello and the Imposters

Chicago Theatre

November 3, 2021

Review by Jeffrey Kotthoff

In his first Chicago performance during the age of COVID, Elvis Costello greeted the audience at the Chicago Theater with what felt like a sincere, “Hello again friends, how you doing?” Costello and The Imposters then roared out of the gates with a raucous three-punch medley with Nick Lowe’s “Heart Of The City,” ”Green Shirt” from Armed Forces, and “No Flag,” from Hey Clockface. The songs spanned 42 years and three unique styles but were nearly seamless in the band’s hands. This was very much the thread throughout the evening, which is what’s remarkable about Costello. He entered the world of popular music on the fit and fury of punk and new wave but found the courage and voice to continue to write pop, county, rockabilly, swing, soul, and even classical music. Almost all of which were represented during Wednesday’s performance.

Looking understandably less like the “angry young man” of his youth and more like a dapper elder statesman, Elvis was dressed to the nines in a black and silver snakeskin suit, looking fit and in fine voice. Costello commanded his band of Imposters made up of longtime members Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, and Davey Faragher, with special guest Charlie Sexton. The addition of Sexton to the tour added a depth and sonic palette to virtually everything Costello played, allowing opportunities for extended soloing from both Sexton and Nieve on Hey Clockface’s “Hetty O’Hara Confidential,” “Brilliant Mistake” from King Of America, and a storming “I Don’t Want To Go To (Chelsea”) that found Nieve, Costello, and Sexton playing almost aggressively off each other, at times seeming as if the song would collapse under its own sonic weight, only to resolve into something altogether unexpected and beautiful.

Costello shifted from soulful crooner on The Delivery Man’s“Every Side of The Same Town,” to carnival barker, yelling through a megaphone and turning “Watching The Detectives” into a menacing romp, closer in vibe to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “I Put A Spell On You” than its original ska/reggae delivery. He then told a story about how at age seven, he visited Chicago for the first time and went to a church where he gave a confession, choosing “adultery” as his sin as he “didn’t know anyone with an Oxen,” much to the delight of the audience. He said he figured the crowd would get the joke, “what with all the Irish and Italian Catholics in this city.”

While a handful of songs during the performance came from 2020’s ambitious Hey Clockface, Costello debuted multiple tracks from the forthcoming The Boy Named If, most notably “Penelope Halfpenny,” a song written about a teacher he had in his youth that set his mind and heart ablaze with her “long hair and short skirts, talking religion and English literature.” Costello explained the new record “takes us from the last days of a bewildered childhood to that mortifying moment when you’re told to stop acting like a child — which for most men can be any time in the next 50 years.”

The band closed the evening with a handful of hits and fan favorites, including “Pump It Up,” complete with a nod to Sexton’s former boss Bob Dylan, who was playing less than a mile away. Costello changed the lyrics to include lines from “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the change coaxing a wry smile from Sexton. The band soon charged ahead with another Nick Lowe cover, “What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding,” before ending the evening with a reserved and truncated “Allison,” one final rave-up with “Farewell, OK” and a bow to the audience.

Costello mentioned the best part of playing songs from an unreleased record is the audience would get the chance to fall in love with them all over again once they were released and he was back playing for us. If tonight was any indication of what’s to come, hopefully, that return will be sooner than later.


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