Elvis Costello & the Imposters Live: 2024 Review

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Elvis Costello and the Imposters in San Diego, June 2024 (Photo by Brad Auerbach, used with permission)

The advice from a photographer who has covered more than 100 shows by The Who points out that seeing a band when they’re angry is the best experience for the fan. On June 16, 2024, in San Diego, early guitar troubles left Elvis Costello, the former computer programmer, quite furious. And it was a pretty good show, perhaps as a result.

Costello started by tearing into a handful of his early tracks, which were released at the dawn of the punk age. If that genre is known for anything, it is anger. Costello is now less the part he had once played as the geeky scrawny nerd, but some of that old energy filtered through the rest of the set.

The evening’s two highlights were “Radio Radio” and “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” The energy of the former and the irony of the latter push these songs to the top of fan favorite lists.

Elvis Costello in San Diego, June 2024 (Photo by Brad Auerbach, used with permission)

Most of Costello’s set came from his massive songbook, but he dropped in a couple of tasty covers. A brooding version of “Ghost Town” by the Specials harkened back to when Costello produced the English neo-ska band. Costello first covered Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy” on the ragged Kojak Variety album, but live it was suitably evocative.

Costello pranced about in a kilt, teasing that he was probably wearing it “in the traditional manner.” His band was well-oiled, ready to pivot when he changed up some of the arrangements on the fly. Charlie Sexton sizzled as always on electric guitar. Longtime compadres Pete Thomas (drums) and Steve Nieve (keyboards) have been accompanying Costello for eons, and relative newcomer Davey Faragher offered solid bass and useful backing vocals.

It would have been great to get a preview of a song or two from Costello’s long-gestating stage musical version of Budd Schulberg’s A Face In The Crowd, scheduled to open in London in September.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Costello’s Armed Forces LP

The guitar problems were eventually sorted out, and toward the end of his set Costello seemed to be in better form.

Watch Costello and the Imposters perform “Pump It Up” a couple of days earlier in Santa Barbara

When “Alison” was covered by Linda Ronstadt in the late 1970s, Costello was initially dismissive of her version. (Indeed, he sent his royalties therefrom to the African National Congress after she played Sun City in South Africa). On previous tours, however, Costello was heartfelt in dedicating the song to her. Without the royalties her version generated, Costello admitted he would not have been able to keep his Attractions on the road during those lean years.

In San Diego he was more acerbic, introducing “Alison” as a song he only played several times on his first tour “because it made too many girls like the band.” He stretched out the tail end of the song and segued it smoothly into “The Only Flame in Town.”

Watch “Alison” performed earlier in the tour

Many in the audience were perplexed as to why Costello was opening for Daryl Hall. It seemed to be a bit of an oil-and-water pairing. Hall certainly shifted more units and his blue-eyed soul certainly has its moments, but the explosive energy of Costello is a hard act to follow.

Watch Costello perform “Watching the Detectives” earlier in the tour

Tickets for the tour are available here.

Brad Auerbach

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