Bursting onto the music scene as one of the first New Wave artists in the late 70's, Elvis Costello was often thought to be a flash in the pan. After all, he had Elvis Presley's first name, Lou Costello's last (he actually appropriated his mother's maiden name) and Buddy Holly's glasses. This persona was obviously crafted just to get attention. Behind the name however was a talented musician who could churn out a seemingly endless supply of short, fast, infectious rock tunes. His style has evolved and changed over the years, but Elvis Costello is still creating new music and releasing albums 30 years later.
In 2005 Elvis Costello and his back-up band the Imposters played a pair of shows in a small club in Memphis Tennessee which were filmed in high definition and released on SD DVD. That concert is now available on a Blu-ray disc under the appropriate title Elvis Costello and the Imposters - Club Date - Live in Memphis.
I've had the pleasure of seeing Elvis Costello perform three times, but never in a small intimate club setting like this one. Even though he and the Attractions (consisting of Steve Nieve on keyboards, drummer Pete Thomas, and bass player Davey Faragher (who replaces the original bassist Bruce Thomas)) have gained a few pounds and look a bit older, they can still rock when the mood strikes them. They start the concert off with some old classics to get the audience rev'ed up, Waiting for the End of the World, Radio Radio, and Mystery Dance, and then mixes in some of his later songs. The concert material draws heavily from his album Delivery Man, which was released the year before this event took place, with nine songs from that 13 song album appearing. If you're a fan of that album you'll undoubtedly enjoy this concert more than someone who's never heard it, like me. Even thought the material was new though, these generally slower songs were good, and I'm sure they'll grow on my.
Though Elvis and the Attractions do their best and have a good time and they do manage to rock out, it's easy to tell that they are past their prime. Elvis' voice is getting a little old and he has trouble hitting some of the notes that he once did. He's not as smooth as he once was on the intro to High Fidelity for example. It was a bit too gritty sounding. You could tell he was getting tired by the end of the concert too. Peace, Love, and Understanding didn't have the powerful vocal edge that it should have. The part where he sings "Where is that har----mony? Sweet harmony..." is simplified, he doesn't hit all of the myriad notes that he did years ago. The last song of the concert, Pump it Up, was a bit sloppy too. The lyrics weren't as crisp and precise as they were when he sung it a couple of decades ago. He does much better on the more recent songs, which are generally not as challenging vocally as the songs that he wrote when he was 25 years old.
This isn't an embarrassing concert with an old man trying to recapture his youth though. Elvis and the Attractions do a solid job and present a good solid show, it's just not the show it would have been 20 year ago.
The songs preformed are:
1. Waiting for the End of the World
This concert was filmed in high definition and the 1.78:1 image looks very good. The close-ups were especially impressive and had very good definition and detail. Viewers can easily make out the copious amounts of sweat rolling down Elvis' face, the grain in his guitar, and the heavy makeup that Emmylou Harris was wearing. The medium shots were a bit on the soft side and this is probably due to the lighting on the stage. On the digital side, things look pretty good too. Aliasing and posterization weren't a problem, and I didn't notice any macroblocking. There was some cross-coloration though, most notably when the camera pans over Elvis' mic from a medium distance. The criss-crossed wire head of the microphone produces a little bit of color, but this is fairly minor. Overall a nice looking disc, especially for a live concert.
This disc offers a PCM uncompressed stereo soundtrack as well as a DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. While the PCM track was nice, I actually preferred the DTS track. It gave a more encompassing feeling and put the viewer in the middle of the crowd. The mix was pretty good overall though I did have some problems with it. I thought the bass was a bit too prominent in some songs, especially Allison where it tends to drown out the other instruments. Elvis' guitar could have gotten a boost during Peace, Love, and Understanding too. The clangy rhythm track wasn't nearly as forceful as it could have been. These are minor things and one could criticize most live concert recordings in a similar fashion. The audio quality was very good. The disc boasts a full dynamic range and clear sound with no hiss or distortion.
This disc also has four bonus tracks that weren't included in the concert itself. I'm not sure why they clipped these since the concert was released straight to SD DVD. I would have preferred it if they left them in the show, but at least we have them here.
My Baby's Gone - with Emmylou Harris
There are a couple of featurettes on the disc too. The first one, Off the Beaten Path shows Elvis and drummer Pete Thomas taking a drive through Memphis talking about the history of the city and their previous visits there. They stop off at the Stax record museum and then travel to Oxford, Mississippi where Costello's album The Delivery Man was recorded. The whole thing runs a little less than an hour, and though there were some interesting parts, I thought it was a bit too long. After 20 minutes of people reminiscing informally, I've had enough.
The other featurette is Radio and the Fan, a short 4-minute look at the people waiting out in line for tickets to the show, and singing classic Costello songs (badly.)
I did enjoy this disc, though I did find myself wishing that someone
had recorded a concert like this back in the early 80's. Elvis and
the Attractions play a good selection of their old songs that catapulted
them to stardom, but they also have a fair amount of more recent songs,
including several from The Delivery Man. Fans of the group will surely
enjoy this, though people with only a passing familiarity to his songs
probably won't enjoy it as much. Recommended.