Live Review, 4/15/12: Elvis Costello and the Imposters Spin Their Wheel at the Warfield

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Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello and the Imposters
Sunday, April 15, 2012
The Warfield

Better than: Sunday night cartoons.

You should know that your reviewer was not, at first, a fan: "So he sings with that voice on purpose?" Pretty rich coming from an apologist for both Donald Fagen and Geddy Lee. But this was long ago, in high school, with much yet to be learned. That first Elvis Costello exposure, tellingly proselytized by a pal with a perfect verbal on the S.A.T., came again to mind Sunday night at the Warfield, entrance to which required passing through the adolescence-redolent Market Street scene of chess masters sitting solemnly in clouds of skunky weed smoke and b.o.

Furthermore, your reviewer was coming from a genteel and soporific wine country weekend, admittedly fighting an urge to just stay in and watch Family Guy. But from the early looks of the Warfield crowd, so was everybody else. To say so is just to acknowledge that some domestication has occurred since Costello's own salad days of spitting tuneful accusations and spazzing around, and there's no denying the vague correlation between having married Diana Krall at Elton John's castle and needing to get "Watching the Detectives" out of the way early on.

Fears of rote, out-to-pasture punk were dismissed early on. The man can put on a show -- or in this case a Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour, with fans invited onstage to derive the evening's set list from a big bright roulette wheel full of songs and subjects. Taking up top hat and cane, he'd introduced himself as Napoleon Dynamite, and it felt all right to imagine that anyone inferring some random Jon Heder reference was present only on account of being brought by parents imposing a history lesson. True, this game-show-cabaret routine, reiterated from his own act of 25 years ago, might look like a way of outsourcing the entertainment labor. But in fact it gave the night a nice balance of spontaneity and directional momentum -- palpably enjoyed by the maestro and impressively managed by a shrewdly people-wrangling pair of go-go dancers.

His Imposters -- Davey Faragher on bass; Steve Nieve, keyboards; Pete Thomas, drums -- also were in good supportive form, accommodating an initially muddy mix and Costello's sometimes clotted guitar solos with sturdy aplomb. Together they plowed through a full array of fierce rockers, crooner ballads, and things in between ("Everyday I Write the Book," having dried out some of its pop sap, has aged especially well), not to mention that great, rhythmically augmented take on Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go, plus a "Happy Birthday" by special request. With this material, this group would be ideal in a smaller and better sounding room -- but of course, deservedly, they draw a bigger room's crowd.


Location Info

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Warfield Theatre

982 Market, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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13 comments
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Mark TDoLore
Mark TDoLore

Looks like we have a case of the usual--a few people clinging on to a couple of sentences as if the rest of the review doesn't exist. Relax. It's only rock and roll. And to the few people complaining, I want your 600-word reviews on my desk by morning. Then we'll have a discussion.

Josh Fernandez
Josh Fernandez

YOU CALL YOURSELF A "WRITER," THEN WHY DIDN'T YOU WRITE ABOUT WHEN HE CALLED RAY CHARLES A "BLIND, IGNORANT, NIG***"?! 

YEAH, IT WAS IN THE '70S, BUT IT WAS BY FAR THE MOST INTERESTING PART OF COSTELLO'S CAREER. 

Alan Scherstuhl
Alan Scherstuhl

Maybe after that, Kiefer can launch an investigation into what happened to your caps lock. 

Josh Fernandez
Josh Fernandez

NOTHING HAPPENED TO MY CAPS LOCK. I'M JUST YELLING BECAUSE YOU ELVIS COSTELLO FANS ARE VERY OLD AND DISORIENTED. HELP ME HELP YOU.

AWilkin
AWilkin

I'm seeing some polarizing comments and I thought I'd toss in my two cents. I for one very much enjoyed this review for exactly the reason that it was not typical or by the numbers. It reminds me of the days when journalists wrote reviews with a point of view and a voice, rather than spewing how "awesome" it was, or how much "it sucked". As a fan of EC, and someone who is curious to know what his tours are like these days, I got exactly what I wanted and needed. Thank you for writing a coherent review with a voice and a vocabulary. I hope to see more like it.

And PS: To those who simply want to know what happened without comment, I'm sure you can find that on some teenager's tumblr or twitter feed.

David Riedel
David Riedel

I think my favorite thing about fanboy gripes is the total wrongheadedness of nearly all of them. Criticism is for criticizing, for God's sake; fans are for buying records, attending shows and supporting the artist. That the critic likes or doesn't like the show - and this seems a pretty favorable review, all things considered - is totally immaterial. Take your navel gazing harangues elsewhere.

And while we're at it, nowhere does Kiefer's reference to Napolean Dynamite and Jon Heder in the same sentence suggest that he doesn't know EC's relationship to the moniker. Are you going out of way to misread the piece or are you a jerk? My guess is both."Really wish someone deserving or plugged in or that.. cared would've written this review." What a provincial twit. Shut up.

warns
warns

Yes.. so small minded of me to expect that someone writing a review of an artist talks about something other than how old they "think" the artist is, (having done what seems like the least possible amount of research prior to the show), that Elvis is friends with Elton John, or that he'd rather be watching Family Guy.  He was there to talk about what happened, at the show, the first three paragraphs are about how he doesn't want to be there.

This review would've gotten a "See me after class, needs work" in any of my journalism classes.  I wanted to read a review so I KNOW HOW THE SHOW WAS, since I couldn't make it. From someone that doesn't start out by exposing their indifference.  Is that so hard? To actually report? 

Jonathan Kiefer
Jonathan Kiefer

Hey "warns," I just wanted to let readers know up front where I was coming from so they could make their own call about my authority. And so you did. Meanly, but ok. As for your authority, you do seem like someone who's been told "See me after class, needs work" by a journalism teacher, so I won't challenge you on that. But obviously my opening -- including the part where I non-indifferently called it better than Sunday night cartoons -- didn't encourage you to read the many other paragraphs about how the show was and what happened, so it's my bad.

warns
warns

Really wish someone deserving or plugged in or that.. cared would've written this review.   Elvis has played Operahouses, to sold out, adoring crowds.  If you don't like him, you should've handed off the review, he's not passe, he hasn't given up or anything, and if this show is anything like last April's performance at Oakland's Fox Theater for the same tour, you've done it a great disservice.  God I hope you're an intern.

JLMillard
JLMillard

EC first performed under the name Napoleon Dynamite in 1982, trumping the Jon Heder movie by over 2 decades.  And no mention of Bill Walton singing on Ramble on Rose?  Awful, awful review.  You should've stayed in for Family Guy and let someone with a clue write this.

Jonathan Kiefer
Jonathan Kiefer

I am aware of the Napoleon Dynamite thing, JL. Hence the reference in the first place.But as the latter one would say, "Gosh!" 

Pooper
Pooper

If you read the review, you'd have gathered that the Heder reference was for people who didn't know the origins, hence the need for "imposing a history lesson". 

Jonathan Kiefer
Jonathan Kiefer

p.s. I didn't mention Walton being on stage because that happened in San Diego and I reviewed the San Francisco show.

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