Sunday, September 16, 2012

Elvis is Alive and His Aim is Still True -- Milwaukee Concert Review: Elvis Costello & the Imposters

Concert Review

Elvis Costello
& the Imposters
with opening act
Willy Porter
BMO Harris Bank Pavilion,
Summerfest Grounds, Milwaukee, WI
September 15, 2012

Saturday night in Chicago offered a wealth of concert possibilities, including some of my very favorite artists: Rush at the United Center, Wilco at the Hideout Block Party, Buddy Guy at the Chicago Theatre and Roger McGuinn at the Beverly Arts Center, where he had given an outstanding performance in June 2011.

And although I am not big on festivals, Riot Fest in Humboldt Park seemed to offer good value and on Saturday featured such quality acts as the Gaslight Anthem and Dropkick Murphys.

So of course, I decided to go up to Milwaukee to see Elvis Costello & the Imposters.

Especially compared to Rush, Wilco, Guy and McGuinn, all of whom I’ve seen live within the past couple years, it’d been too long since I attended a show by the artist originally known as Declan McManus. I saw Elvis and the Imposters open for the Rolling Stones on a bitterly cold night in 2006, but hadn’t seen Costello as a headliner since a free Taste of Chicago concert in 2003. I’d seen him on three occasions before that, dating back to 1991, but for a musician I’ve really liked for over 25 years and from whom I own over 20 albums, at least one more live experience seemed in order.

Though Costello still seems to come through Chicago fairly often, he isn’t currently in the midst of a full-fledged American tour, with no other recent shows and only a run of California dates coming up.

He and the Imposters were scheduled to play Riot Fest on Sunday, but while the lineup was stellar—also including Iggy & the Stooges, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Built to Spill, Fishbone and Alkaline Trio—the festival wasn’t conducive to my schedule or my discomfort in standing for long periods.

So just this week, I got tickets—in the 6th row—to see Costello at his only other Midwest show, in Milwaukee, and went up there with my friend Paolo, who’s an even bigger Elvis fan than I am. The concert was held at the BMO Harris Bank Pavilion, a relatively recently constructed stage on the grounds of Milwaukee Summerfest, that to my awareness, joins the Marcus Amphitheatre as the only such venues to hold concerts outside of the annual Summerfest festival.

Because Paolo also had tickets to the nearby Rock the Green festival, on a gorgeous afternoon in Milwaukee we checked out a band from Australia named Atlas Genius and one from Las Vegas called Imagine Dragons. Both were listenable but in my estimation, nothing special. After a good Cuban dinner at a place called Cubanitas, we made our way onto the Summerfest grounds and to our prime seats at the BMO Harris Pavilion, which is attractively designed along a lovely lakeside setting.

Although we were only alerted to the opening act upon arrival, we discovered him to be a terrifically enjoyable Wisconsin-based folk singer named Willy Porter (shown at left). 

Onstage alone, Porter clearly won over the crowd with a delightful set of songs and brilliant guitar playing. His fretwork was particularly dazzling on a song called "Breathe"; other than perhaps Lindsay Buckingham, I don't know that I've ever witnessed anyone playing an acoustic guitar with such obvious ability and flair.

All of Porter's songs were pleasant, with "How to Rob a Bank" being an insightful highlight about modern-day financial thievery. He also performed a sublime interpretation of Peter Gabriel's "Digging in the Dirt" and clearly deserved the standing ovation he earned at the end of a near hourlong set. (Here is just one Willy Porter video I found on YouTube, of "Breathe" from a few years ago.)

Then it was time for Elvis, and from the opening notes of first song "Lipstick Vogue," it was apparent that even at 58, Mr. Costello's voice is still in fine form. For the next 100 minutes or so, he and the Imposters--pianist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher, the first two being original Attractions--mixed a cavalcade of Costello classics with a few songs I, and even Paolo, didn't recognize but that didn't detract.

No one has yet posted a setlist for Milwaukee on, and I don't know it in full, but among the gems that Elvis played--all rather well, some with nice variances from the recordings--roughly in order were "Lipstick Vogue," "Mystery Dance," "Radio Radio," "Everyday I Write the Book," "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down," "High Fidelity," "Uncomplicated," "Watching the Detectives," "Beyond Belief," "Clubland," "Less Than Zero," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." 

He also covered Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" and closed with a rollicking version of The Byrds' "So You Want to be a Rock 'n' Roll Star."

As with any show by someone with a songbook of Elvis' magnitude--although his output, especially from 1977 to 1986, is matched by a relatively small handful of artists--a few great tunes were left out. But other than "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Oliver's Army," "Alison" and personal favorite, "Brilliant Mistake," there wasn't a whole lot that I acutely missed hearing.

And as, like his voice, a slimmed-down Costello remains in good shape, I certainly would be happy to see him again, the next time through Chicago. Or Milwaukee.

Although for me, and presumably for Paolo, this wasn't a @@@@@ show rivaling the Springsteen epics at Wrigley last weekend. But it was as good as I was hoping for from an artist that remains among the best at what he does. And made all the more special from a close-up vantage point, it more than merited the drive north across the border and the foregoing of other attractive entertainment options. 

35 years after his debut album, My Aim is True, announced him as a major talent, Elvis Costello is still, quite impressively, hitting his target.

1 comment:

Joe Heuer said...

Hey Man,

Very nice.

If you noticed a cat dancin' on the left side like a whirling dervish, that was me.(right behind where folks were seated)

Since Elvis, I've seen David Byrne Sunday & Buddy Guy tonite (Mon)...not to mention Lewis Black Friday. Haven't yet written about any of them, cept on Twitter.

Since I could not locate my notebook, I was gonna attempt to create a blog post (I'm a cheerleader, not a reviewer) from my more or less said a bunch of what I wuz gonna say, so I'll direct folks to read your thoughts.

I'd welcome an opportunity to chat. I'm pretty easy to find. Giggle.