Friday, April 17, 2009

Elvis Costello and the Imposters - Universal Lending Pavilion, Denver, CO, 7/16/03

go see the full article of best concerts of this decade at

I had a perfect view as Elvis Costello stormed off the stage, practically in mid-song. I also seem to recall him throwing down his guitar in either righteous frustration or rock star snit, but maybe that's just my memory messing with me. The crowd, living it up on a hot July night in Denver just a few moments before, became disconcertingly quiet. Even the Imposters - drummer Pete Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve, and bassist Davey Faragher - seemed momentarily stunned, leaving the stage as the house lights came on.

It was less than an hour into the show, and I began to feel like a bigger schmuck than Bruce Thomas. Having driven nearly 14 hours from St. Louis - including a lifetime spent driving across the hell on earth known as Kansas - it looked like another brutal trek across that depressing monotonous terrain was imminent. After several tense minutes of boos mixed with cheers mixed with more boos, Costello and the band returned and played one of the most aggressive, loud and supremely pissed off concerts I've ever seen.

Up to this point the show had been solid enough, with Costello and the band going through tight versions of then-recent songs like "I Hope You're Happy Now" and "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)" as well as songs for the elders like "Radio Radio" and "Clubland." Yet after this brief delay the show devolved into a whole other beast. "Man Out Of Time" was played at triple speed, with an extended guitar workout during which Costello broke a guitar string but kept flailing away. "Less Than Zero" and "45" were given similar harsh treatments, with Costello and the band not even bothering to pause between songs. "Uncomplicated" featured that classic Costello snarl and was matched by the band's insistent playing; I still remember how Thomas' drums sounded like they were being played inside my skull. The Nick Lowe-penned closing song "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" brought everything to a raucous close; the Imposters have played that song repeatedly throughout this decade, but never has it sounded as raw and unhinged as it did this night.

Though the concert, and indeed the atmosphere in which it occurred, were far removed from Costello's late 1970s glory days, it remains one of the few shows I'd consider flawless. It was an exciting and unpredictable stomp through Costello's back catalog, with most songs played with a sense of purpose and conviction. Nearly every song sounded like it was being played live exactly the way it was meant to be played, making other versions (from that particular tour at least) seem polite and overly refined.

People go to concerts for a variety of reasons - the need to drink excessively and dance a moronic jig or two, a night away from those bastard kids at home, or as some sort of twisted fanboy obsession. But mostly it's because concertgoers want a night to remember; if transcendence is involved, so much the better. I'm still not sure why Costello stomped off the stage in Denver, and I don't really care. Regardless, what followed afterward was the best Costello and the Imposters concert I've seen - and I've seen enough of their shows to warrant psychological analysis - as well as the most thrilling concert I attended this decade.


Ram said...

Yeah, no doubt that this latest concert tour was off the hook. I really enjoy it. But Elvist Costello concert tickets have definitely gone up in price over the last few years. I don't blame him though, it's all those people downloading free music. They gotta stop that.

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