Still Writing the Book: Elvis Costello at the Schnitz

Vortex Music Magazine

The English singer-songwriter returned to the City of Roses on July 8, delivering a superlative two-hour set of classics and deep cuts at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

If it was ever in doubt, it is no longer: Elvis Costello can rock. Performing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Wednesday night, Costello and his band, the Imposters, tore through an exuberant two-hour set punctuated by several early classics and a finely curated selection of subsequent cuts spanning the duration of Costello’s 40-year career—each showcasing the English singer-songwriter’s chameleonic performance talents and his vast embrace of the modern pop idiom.

Dressed in a navy suit and wielding an enviable quiver of vintage Gibson guitars, Costello’s intentions were starkly apparent from the beginning. Opening the night with an edgy arrangement of "The River In Reverse," Costello and the Imposters would next power through "Watching The Detectives" and a driving iteration of "Accidents Will Happen," noticeably striving to reach and emancipate a potent musical synchronicity and broader communion. Costello would struggle to keep pace with the relentless lyricism of the latter, a standout track from 1979’s Armed Forces. Such a noble misstep is easily forgiven, however, as Costello and the Imposters would lock in on "Man Out Of Time" and never look back.

Photo by Chad BatkaPhoto by Chad Batka

The extent to which musicians can find and attune to one another is perhaps the most crucial nexus of musical performance and a hallmark of elite live acts from The Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Costello and the Imposters reached this rarefied Elysium on Wednesday night, drawing upon a vigorous group dynamic to propel a stylistically variegated, yet hard-rocking set list that allowed ample room for Costello to show off a robust command of the guitar and the fitness of his vocals—by then dialed in—as well as the collective might of a superb rhythm section comprised of former Attractions drummer Pete Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve, alongside longtime bassist Davey Faragher.

Amassing inertial fortuity with each successive line on his set list, Costello’s performance soon became a seamless highlight. Acoustic arrangements of "Cinco Minutos Con Vos" (featuring a brief quotation of Jobim’s “Insensatez”) and "Ascension Day" were both unqualified standouts, as was Costello’s gorgeous rendition of "I Still Have That Other Girl" from 1998’s Burt Bacharach collaboration, Painted From Memory. Bearing many of its author’s stylistic hallmarks, the song’s key modulations and sophisticated harmony would likely prove too treacherous for all but the very best of today’s pop singers. With Nieve’s accompaniment, however, Costello delivered a graceful and supremely emotive performance that was arguably the apotheosis of an altogether stellar evening.

Photo by Karin Lindberg FredaPhoto by Karin Lindberg FredaCostello and the Imposters would end the night as they had commenced it, returning to their rock and roll aesthetic for a final time to transform the Schnitzer into a scene ironically reminiscent of an E Street show. Thrust from their seats by an impassioned performance of "Everyday I Write The Book," jubilant audience members cheered and swayed as they were treated to two encores replete with classics like "Mystery Dance," "Pump It Up" and a loose, extended cover of Nick Lowe’s "(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding," Costello’s signature closer.

Where time and success may have attenuated the vitality of his contemporaries, it appears to have instead emboldened Costello. Whimsically traipsing around center stage, Costello was clearly enjoying himself—and leaving no doubt as to the state of his abilities. He remains pop’s most formidable intellect. And if Wednesday’s performance was any indication, he doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

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