Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Larkin Poe
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Elvis Costello fans definitely got their money’s worth at the Performing Arts Center on Monday evening (July 18) as the legendary British singer/songwriter led the Imposters through two terrific sets of old faves, new compositions, and surprise renditions. Costello had a lot of fun with his huge, festively lit Spectacular Spinning Songbook, too.
The opening act Larkin Poe (featuring two of the three Lovell Sisters) was a surprise. The Atlanta-based quartet wasn’t announced on the bill prior to the show. Fortunately, they won over the audience with a warm and concise opening set of bluegrass-tinged folk-pop and a gracious, appreciative attitude. Rebecca Lovell handled mandolin, acoustic guitar, and lead vocals, while her sister Megan switched between lap steel and dobro. Backed by electric guitarist Rick Lollar and fancy drummer Chad Melton, they delivered a handful of songs from their recently-released “seasonal” EPs (four discs, each titled for a seasons of the year). It was twangy stuff.
In front of a fairly full room, Costello and his backing trio hit the stage around 8:30 p.m. In tight formation, next to a go-go cage and the game show-style spinning wheel (which featured 40 song titles), they blasted through a rapid-fire, enthusiastic mini-set while a wiggly go-go dancer bounced around at stage right. They opened with a solid, straight-ahead rockers titled “I Hope You’re Happy Now” and a cover of Nick Lowe’s “Heart of the City” before tackling “Mystery Dance” at high speed. Costello’s voice was clear and strong. He hit every note with ease. The stompin’ “Radio Radio” earned huge applause.
Bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas locked in on the rhythms and accents, while keyboardist Steve Nieve multitasked like a mad scientist on his arsenal of pianos, synths, and organs. Veterans of Costello’s first band, the Attractions, Nieve and Thomas were as fluid and expressive as ever, playing tastefully and forcefully on a variety of material — from quiet ballads like “Alison,” one of the sweetest moments of the first set, to ragers like “Strict Time,” which kicked off a four-song “time-themed” set.
Musically, Costello and the veered from genre to genre throughout the show. It was an eclectic, unpredictable mix — especially once they started inviting members of the audience on stage to have a go at the Spectacular Spinning Songbook. Whenever he swapped his Fender Telecaster for an emcee’s walking cane, Costello became quite animated and giddy, joshing around with his guests and cracking jokes about Rupert Murdoch. He danced with his guests from time to time, serenading them like an old Vegas crooner. At a very young 56, he never looked fatigued or rattled at all.
An extended jam during “Watching the Detectives” allowed Costello to explore some wonderfully distorted tones and a tremolo pedal during some lengthy solos. The place went nuts when the band launched into “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” which included the return of the Lovell sisters on extra harmonies, mandolin, and lap steel. An emotive, elegantly jazzy acoustic version of “A Slow Drag with Josephine,” from last year’s National Ransom, pulled the audience into the second set with a bit of whistling.
“(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes” morphed into an unexpected shot at Prince’s “Purple Rain.” The melodic “Accidents Will Happen,” a cover of the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Pump It Up” closed the two-and-a-half hour show.
Costello’s mastery of lyrics, melodies, and arrangements were on full display all night. A bold wit and vaudevillian sense of humor blended with a sweet appreciation of his fans and colleagues as well. Seeing, hearing, and feeling it all was a wonderful experience.