Review and Photos by Phil BonyataThe wonder of discovery runs rampant within Elvis Costello's large catalog of music. He has travelled many roads in his career from the early days of punk and new wave to the muddy backroads of country and soul with his stylistic interpretations. His lyrics have taken aim at many social ills with a literate and passionate attack and evolving into personal and poetic essays on the road less travelled. Elvis is a modern master on the craft and delivery of the popular song. The man has made a lifelong habit of following his own muse.
The Monkey Speaks His Mind Tour made a much anticipated stop at the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee last night. Casually and confidently filling the sparse stage, Elvis and the Imposters (the Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas plus sure-footed bassist Davey Faragher) ripped right into a spirited version of "Welcome to the Working Week" off of debut album My Aim Is True, then lit right into "Uncomplicated" off of 80's masterpiece Blood and Chocolate. Looking country dapper in a three-piece black suit and bolo tie, Elvis' voice has matured into a lower and more self-assured vocal range. Former Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth once said sarcastically that "People who listen to Elvis Costello, look like Elvis Costello. That may or may not be true, but where are you now, David? "Our Little Angel" found just how well Elvis and the Imposters jelled onstage - with Elvis supplying a coarse rhythm section to the bands' rock solid foundation. Early on in the show an over-eager fan aggressively jumped the stage and ran towards the singer before security guards could wisk him out of the building. Elvis never acknowledged the interloper, instead focusing on his intense relationship with his music.
The two and a half hour set featured such classics as "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Watching the Detective," "Alison," which segued nicely into "Suspicious Minds," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," "Pump It Up," "Mystery Dance," "Lipstick Vogue" and "Radio, Radio." All done with renewed and firey passion. Every song sounded as fresh as the day they were born. A couple of covers were admirably done, as well, with Merle Haggard's wistful "(Tonight) The Bottle Let Me Down" and Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got A Hold On Me." Midway through the set, Elvis thanked the Wisconsin audience for coming to the show by saying, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, "You could've all been at the Cheese Carving Charity. It's your heritage, you know, but instead you choose to spend the evening with me." On "Shabby Doll" off of 1982's Imperial Bedroom, Elvis and the Imposters found a bridge between the early rock-flavored records and his later, more musically complex songs. The boys performed a grueling and passionate version of "I Want You" off of Blood and Chocolate. Feeding off of each others intensity and growing ever bolder as each note and chord were ripped free - the band created a beautiful and swirling masterpiece right before our eyes. This was the highlight of the evening for many. Elvis' guitar playing is rather unique, and you sometimes forget just how good he is until you see him perform live. His leads are slow exercises in mastering each chord until every note reaches maturation and resonates with originality. Many times you can pick out low-key jazz influences married to earthy, yet stylistic pickings.
At one point an eager female admirer handed Elvis a single black rose in which he put the flower in his mouth and firmly clamped down on the thorny stem. Smiling all the while. Elvis and the Imposters played four songs off of their latest release - Lost Highway's The Delivery Man - a body of work that draws deeply from American roots music. With the lyrical intensity of "Bedlam," the slow burn of the title track, the salty southern twang of "Country Darkness" to the rousing finale of "Scarlet Tide" in which Elvis stepped away from the mic and did a short chorus a cappella style. The audience was so enthralled at this moment that you could have literally heard a pin drop. It is safe to say that Elvis' endless quest for honesty and originality has only just begun. A sure sign of a true artist is that they are never fully satisfied.
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