Monday, Sept. 17, 2012

Elvis Costello and the Imposters @ The BMO Harris Pavilion

Sept. 15, 2012

By Evan Rytlewski
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Elvis Costello's concerts are nothing if not thorough. Though no setlist could squeeze in every highlight from the prolific songwriter's 35-year career, his shows touch on every phase of it, drawing generously from Costello's angry young man rips, his recent elder statemen output and a fair amount of the many whims he’s indulged along the way. His performances tend to be long, as a result, regularly stretching past the two-hour mark with sprawling, 25-song setlists and run-on encores.

The comparatively brief 90-minute setlist of Costello’s concert at the BMO Harris Pavilion Saturday night came as a bit of a disappointment, then, but at least he made the most of his time. Rarely pausing between songs for anything longer than a "1, 2, 3, 4!" countdown, Costello and his Imposters ripped through 22 songs in their brisk set, forgoing balladry in favor of keeping the audience on its feet. Even "Beyond Belief," the opener from Imperial Bedroom, the album that signaled Costello's turn away from sneered New Wave toward more respectable song styles, bristled with an impatient, punky tempo. The abridged set time meant that a lot of live favorites went unplayed. There was no room for the slow, menacing reveal of "I Want You" or the stomping “Monkey To Man,” a late-period concert staple, and Costello deprived the audience of a great singalong by skipping "Alison," opting instead for covers of Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" and The Byrds' "This Wheel's on Fire."

It would have been easier to excuse the abridged performance if the night hadn’t gotten off to such a slow start. Unlisted opener Willy Porter performed for an exhausting 50 minutes—way longer than almost any acoustic solo act could hold the attention of a crowd waiting for a rock show—meaning Costello didn’t take the stage until 9 p.m., a good hour and a half later than much of the crowd expected. That scheduling whiff aside, the BMO Harris Pavilion provided a solid experience overall. Though the venue has struggled to draw crowds in its inaugural year, Costello played for a respectable, half-full audience, and they put the pavilion’s beer tent to work, freighting armfuls of MGD back to their seats between songs. Like the headliner himself, they just seemed to be warming up by the time the show ended.

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