Elvis Costello at the Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena
Elvis Costello is back on the road again after suddenly canceling several European summer tour dates due to cancer treatment. And he seemed none the worse for wear during Saturday night’s second current tour stop at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, where he and his veteran Imposters band put on a show up there with any in Costello’s extraordinary 40-plus-year career as a recording artist.
Which is only fitting as the reviews of his new album Look Now are about as unanimously ecstatic as those that greeted his earliest ones. So it was fitting, too, that he opened Saturday night’s show with “This Year’s Girl,” the second track of his 1978 second album This Year’s Model. From there he jumped ahead to “Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?” (from his 1986 album Blood and Chocolate), and with Clubland, from 1981’s Trust, it was abundantly clear that he was both back and holding nothing back.
And with “Burnt Sugar is So Bitter”—the night’s first song from the new album (co-written with Carole King, and crooned by Costello at Hard Rock sans guitar)—he indicated that the new songs (notably also including “Under Lime,” “Unwanted Number” and “Why Won’t Heaven Help Me?”) would fit in seamlessly with the rest, as indeed they did, aided by a masterful integration of the new with the old such that the set’s pacing never flagged.
The new “Don’t Look Now” stood out in being a slow ballad, sung powerfully to minimal piano accompaniment from Steve Nieve, ever the busy bee behind his battery of keyboards that looks to have been increased by one or two, due to the requirements of the intricately textured Look Now. Drummer Pete Thomas, who's been with Nieve alongside Costello since the beginning, held it together while maintaining overdrive, as did bassist/vocalist Davey Faragher, also the background vocal arranger: Such a great vocalist as Costello requires the best backing, and he continues to have it with Faragher, Briana Lee and Kitten Kuroi, the two gals now a welcome fixture over the last several Costello tours.
Following a perfect pairing of concert standards “Watching the Detectives” and “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror,” and an awesome “High Fidelity,” a second vocal mic was brought front center for Lee and Kuroi to sandwich Costello on “Alison” (with “Detectives” the two big songs from his 1977 debut album My Aim is True). They all had so much fun on the one song Costello always has to sing that he kept them out for “Everyday I Write the Book,” his hit from 1983’s Punch the Clock, in which they here inserted a chorus from Jean Knight’s 1970 soul hit “Mr. Big Stuff.”
Costello rightly gave his band members credit throughout the show, which ended traditionally with “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” the latter sounding more emphatic and urgent than ever, what with the election in three days, and the peace-sign gesturing by Lee and Kuroi. And while Costello made no direct mention of the election, he did note that the last time he and the Imposters had played this venue, it had been under “the old management,” not needing to explain that the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino had formerly been the Trump Taj Mahal.
And then they were off on the road to Washington, D.C. for the next night’s show, or as Costello so aptly called it, “the highway to Hell.”
"Burnt Sugar is So Bitter"