In the music spotlight: Elvis Costello
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Chicago-based fans of rock icon Elvis Costello are doubly blessed. After cancelling summer dates in Europe to recover from cancer-related surgery, Costello visited Douglas Park in mid-September with his loyal band the Imposters to make his comeback at Riot Fest. On Wednesday, the celebrated songwriter returns with fresh material for a concert at the Vic.
“How you doing?” Costello had asked a sea of cheering Riot Fest attendees. Anticipating the concerns of diehard fans peppering the crowd, the 64-year-old singer answered the unasked question of those tracking his health. “I’m doing fine, thanks,” he said as formidable drummer Pete Thomas and veteran bassist Davey Faragher kicked into a spirited “Pump It Up.” As if intent on proving his vitality, Costello anchored the set with brash favorites like the tense “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and recriminatory “Waiting for the End of the World.” He closed with a howling “(What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
Truth be told, the gig wasn’t Costello’s finest vocal performance, but he lashed into stinging guitar solos for tracks like the sharp-tongued “Miracle Man” alongside Steve Nieve’s jubilant electric piano. Fans were justly joyful simply to have their hero back. With another month or so to regain strength since Riot Fest, expect Costello and the Imposters to be fighting fit at the Vic.
In a recording career topping 40 years, Costello has explored wide-ranging styles and rarely faltered. His origin is in the 1970s post-punk of songs like the snarling “Radio, Radio,” but there are also double-edged, soulful ballads like “Alison” and “I Want You” strewn throughout the discography alongside the reggae-noir of “Watching the Detectives.” 1990’s “King of America” explored roots-rock in what could have been many alt-country acts’ greatest achievement. Radio has embraced Costello’s collaborations with Paul McCartney and sophisticated jazz-pop maestro Burt Bacharach, although it underplayed a compelling fusion when 2013’s “Wise Up Ghost” delved into hip-hop with The Roots.
His new (and 30th) album “Look Now” returns Costello to his insightful and darkly romantic lyrical strengths alongside the Imposters on songs like “Unwanted Number,” crafting a new collection of chamber-pop aligned with 1982’s “Imperial Bedroom.” Costello’s Brill Building-influenced songwriting is augmented by collaboration with classic pop heroine Carole King on “Burnt Sugar is So Bitter.” The album also features new work with Bacharach including the stirring “Don’t Look Now,” 20 years after joint album “Painted from Memory.”
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.