The last time Elvis Costello visited Atlanta three years ago, he arrived armed with only a lineup of guitars as he stormed through a solo set.
On Tuesday, the timeless Costello returned with The Imposters, his post-Attractions backup band since the mid-‘90s featuring longtimers Pete Thomas on drums, Steve Nieve on keyboards and, since 2001, former Cracker bassist Davey Faragher.
That Costello’s mates have shared his rich history for decades is an extreme benefit for this tour, dubbed “Just Trust.” It was a promise the delightfully quirky Englishman kept at the Coca-Cola Roxy as he and the band – along with fabulous backup singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee – zigzagged from deep cuts to casual fan favorites in a fulfilling 24-song setlist.
Most of Costello’s shows so far on this tour - which kicked off in late October and will roll through the end of November - have offered a sweeping song selection, with a few core tunes surrounded by a shuffled deck of musical memories.
Shortly after the opening twofer of 1981’s “Strict Time” and “Clubland,” accented with bright animations on three video panels behind the stage, Costello reminisced about the first time he and the Attractions came to the U.S., played Atlanta’s Capitol Theatre and experienced the Howard Johnson hotel.
It’s been a fulfilling career for the 65-year-old, and after enduring a bout with cancer in summer 2018, it’s apparent that he’s relishing his stage time and interaction with fans.
In his dark suit and red tie, hat brim nearly covering his tinted glasses, Costello slashed at his Fender guitar and stayed close to the mic, that patented, slightly nasal tone that is the hallmark of his sound in mostly sturdy form. Yes, there were a few warbled notes throughout the show, but when you’ve created “Everyday I Write the Book” in 10 minutes, you’re afforded some slack.
Costello proffered a couple of outstanding vocal moments as well – an uncorked long note at the end of “Watch Your Step” and a walloping run through Sam & Dave’s “I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down,” on which he played piano and was joined by Kuroi and Lee as he took the nearly sold-out crowd to church.
In between were the four-on-the-floor “Mr. & Mrs. Hush,” from Costello and the Imposters’ most recent album, 2018’s “Look Now,” and the rollicking “Monkey to Man,” which featured one of the more amusing video accompaniments of the show.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016, Costello discussed the Broadway musical he’s been workshopping, “A Face in the Crowd.” A couple of tunes from the production appear regularly in his live sets, and the “catchy campaign song” titled “Blood & Hot Sauce” earned a rapturous ovation from the audience.
The sardonic, politically soaked tune escalated from a piano ditty to a full-powered hand-clapper and its clever lyrics are pure Costello. He also performed the more sedate, organ-backed title track.
Costello returned to his guitar and the Imposters accelerated the pace for a spate of poppier work including “Radio Radio,” played under a spray of yellow lights, “From a Whisper to a Scream” and “High Fidelity.”
For those worried about not hearing the beloved “Alison” or the throbbing “Pump it Up,” Costello and Co. obliged.
It’s unlikely that any remaining shows on the tour will mimic Atlanta’s presentation, but Costello was correct – just trust him.
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