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Elvis Costello on A&E’s Live by Request

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On September 25, 2003, Elvis Costello and the Imposters played live from New York City for the A&E network’s Live by Request show. [CLICK HERE to see when it is re-playing.]

Obviously, two hours of live Elvis makes a sweet treat for any fan. We got lots of interesting Elvis, including some less frequent selections. “Clubland” was a fun thing to hear.

I was particularly pleased when an audience Applause-O-Meter passed up “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” which is great, but common- in favor of “Beyond Belief,” which I don’t think I’ve seen him play live. I’ve heard the classic Imperial Bedroom recording probably literally 1,000 times, but it’s never sounded quite like this. This ranks as my favorite performance of the night.

The title song “North” from his now three day old new album came, naturally, as a request from a Canadian fan. In truth, it was probably the least interesting song of the set.

Ol’ Burt Bacharach called in to request “All This Useless Beauty,” which he said was one of his favorite Elvis songs- even though it was not one that he was involved with. It was good to see this infrequently performed song- and the Bacharach endorsement carries considerable weight- but I still don’t see this as a major Elvis classic.

This overall performance probably rates actually slightly lower than any of the several times I’ve seen him in person, particularly his October 2002 appearance in Indianapolis. He was perhaps just a bit more ragged, or sloppy here. It’s all good, though.

Indeed, this is easily excusable as spontaneity and freshness. He played somewhat different songs than what he was playing live last year. He pulled out stuff that he hasn’t played in a while at the drop of a hat. Plus, he plays things somewhat different from the record. He’s really involved with the songs in the now, rather than merely running through exact replicas of the studio recordings in rote recitations. If it comes out a bit rough around the edges, that’s absolutely cool with me.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention that Steve Nieve is a keyboard playin’ mofo. He can jam out the rock stuff, the jazzy vocal stuff, anything- and add fire to it.

One thing he did do the same was the big main set closer, “Couldn’t Call It Unexpected, No. 4″ from the underrated Mighty Like a Rose album. [Now, if we could just get him to play "Hurry Down Doomsday" sometime] He likes to show off a bit with this one, by stepping away from the mic and projecting it out to several thousand fans purely under his own lung power. This is a pretty good trick, as it’s not just a bit of shouting, but a real song with a melody to perform.

Actually, he went last year’s performance of the song better, by turning it into an audience participation bit. He was waving his arms, conducting the audience. He led the whole audience, then parts of the audience in a chorus, then changed the bit they were singing and brought in other parts of the audience, who still sounded “like a choir of angels.” This was pretty complicated stuff for an audience singalong.

Then he came back for a good, if inevitable, encore of “Peace, Love and Understanding,” though it lacked that extra bit of urgency he had when playing this as guest host for Letterman right before the war.

All in all, this was why God invented Tivo.

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