His Aim Is True: Elvis Costello with the Imposters at the Pageant in St. Louis
J. Gordon
10/11/2002 2:15:25 PM

I was about 16 when I bought a vinyl copy of Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model [recently re-released on Rhino]. Back then, in 1977, Elvis Costello was an edgy, new element to punk and new wave, a quirky retro-spazz doing something unheard of to pop music. Punks ate him up. New Wavers ate him up. Hell, everyone ate him up.

The decades since have taken him from that darker, abrasive scene all the way to collaborations with Nick Lowe, Paul McCartney, and Burt Bacharach. The live 2002 tour for his latest album, which he says “escaped” earlier this year, When I Was Cruel [Island Records], is a skillful, noisy combustive chemical reaction of all of it with memorable, mesmerizing tracks such as “Spooky Girlfriend,” “Tart,” “Alibi,” and the title track.

More than 25 years after that musical celebrity debut, Elvis Costello today might look like any middle-aged guy walking down the street. But don’t let that fool you: his voice is as strong as it was when he was 21—and he seems to fit those big black frame glasses a bit better these days. His October 10th show at St. Louis’ Pageant kept the floor dancing and the seats bouncing as he proved he’s more of a showman than ever, swaying his guitar with a dirty grin like a bad boy exposing himself.

He lost several quarts of sweat and spit as he whole-heartedly sang the lyrics, “I’ll give you anything but time,” – and that was just the third song. But don’t chalk that sweat up to aging. It’s more due to passion, and there’s no question Elvis Costello gives it all. The man probably loses ten pounds of water weight after every show. (Wish I could do that.)

Hearing the new tracks from When I Was Cruel was a mind-opening event in itself, with the Arabian Nights-esque primitive churning background of the title track, and all those little musical touches that make you realize he is so much more than just a pop artist. Anyone who relegates Elvis Costello to the bouncy pop domain, for instance, has yet to hear his sinister and obsessive stalker tune, “I Want You,” an obsessive, ambivalent seduction full of tempestuous creepiness. Yikes! I can’t get enough.

Costello blew us away with songs from every age of his catalog, as well as dipping into a couple covers including the Beatles’ “You Really Got a Hold On Me.” He played favorites such as, “Radio, Radio,” “High Fidelity,” “Alison,” “Watching the Detectives,” and “(What’s so funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which felt more significant than ever. The high point of the show, however, was probably “Pump It Up,” which almost blew the roof off the Pageant with the incredible burst of energy Costello displayed feeding off the crowd.

If you weren’t there, I know I don’t need to rub it in, but I will anyway: Ha! Your loss.

Opener Laura Cantrell and her band performed their “Country from New York” music, in the solid old style of country that’s far easier to stomach than the likes of “new country” artists such as Shania Twain or Vince Gill. Cantrell’s Loretta Lynn-voice, good musicianship, and sharp, biting lyrics prove she’s a talent in any musical genre. Her good looks won’t hurt her career, either.


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