As Elvis Costello & the Imposters began performing at the Rooftop at Pier 17, the musicians competed for attention as a massive, glowing supermoon rose above the East River and Brooklyn shoreline. While the supermoon was a rare photo opportunity, the audience quickly re-engaged with the immediacy of the compelling live music blaring through the speakers. The concert commanded more attention as Costello gradually invited on stage several guests – Charlie Sexton, Nicole Atkins, Allan Mayes, and Nick Lowe.
Costello’s band, the Imposters (keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Davey Faragher, and drummer Pete Thomas) supported him on all songs, yet the set was not limited to songs Costello recorded with the Imposters. The tour was designed to promote his most recent album, The Boy Named If, but the set encompassed a smattering of many of his albums dating back to the late 1970s. Costello has recorded 26 albums with several backing bands including the Attractions, the Costello Show, and the Imposters. He also has collaborated with other musicians on 13 additional albums. Although selected songs are almost guaranteed to be played live at any of his concerts, the rest of the set list Costello concocts by whim, and not necessarily by popular consensus or domestic sales.
The night’s performance began with familiar songs, “Accidents Will Happen” and “Green Shirt,” from Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ 1979 album, Armed Forces. Costello’s voice was hoarse and could not hit the range demanded by these songs. His voice improved significantly as the performance progressed.
Charlie Sexton, a Texas-based guitarist who records under his own name and is best known as a Bob Dylan accompanist, celebrated his 54th birthday at the concert. He performed in Costello’s band for the entire set. Throughout the concert, Sexton offered numerous stinging leads that took Costello’s songs to a higher level.
Costello experimented with some arrangements. This included a medley of his own “Watching the Detectives” with “Invisible Lady,” a composition by the late Charles Mingus to which Costello composed lyrics for a Mingus Big Band album in 2020. The medley was curious but not stellar. While the musical transition between songs was seamless, the two compositions seemed to have little other connectivity in common.
Nicole Atkins, who previously toured as Costello’s support act and sings on The Boy Named If, joined Costello and band for three songs: “You Belong to Me,” “My Most Beautiful Mistake,” and “Still Too Soon to Know.” Costello and Atkins recorded the middle song as a duet, while the two older songs were redesigned this night for dual vocals. Their voices matched well together and in alternating verses.
Later in the set, Costello introduced Allan Mayes. As teenagers in Liverpool, England, Costello and Mayes played together as a duo named Rusty for about a year, back when Costello was known by his legal name, Declan MacManus. Mayes since relocated to Texas, where he tours the music club circuit. After some 50 years apart, Costello and Mayes recently reunited and earlier this year released a six-song EP, The Resurrection of Rust, featuring songs Costello has stated that they would have recorded had they had the opportunity then. On this night, together with the Imposters, Rusty sang two songs, Jim Ford’s “I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind” and Brinsley Schwarz’s “Surrender to the Rhythm,” both of which they sang as youths and later recorded for the EP.
Late in the show, Costello’s final guest was Nick Lowe, who had opened the night with his own set. Lowe produced Costello’s first five albums, and this was their first tour together since 1989, when Lowe was in Rockpile. Lowe and Costello performed Costello’s “Indoor Fireworks” and Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Lowe composed “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” and recorded it in 1974 with the band Brinsley Schwarz; Costello’s recording in 1979 gave the song broader appeal.
Racing against the 10:00 p.m. curfew, Costello and company ended the performance with two more familiar songs: “Pump It Up” and “Alison.” The set featured no songs from Costello’s Grammy winning Look Now album, and familiar songs like “Clubland” were likewise missing. Some songs clicked like magic, others were weaker, but the overall performance did not disappoint.
Starting with the supermoon, this evening brought more surprises than any show Costello has performed in the past in New York City. For Costello fans, the fun is just beginning. The night before the concert at the Rooftop at Pier 17, Costello and Mayes performed as Rusty on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. During an interview segment on the late night television talk show, Costello announced he would perform a 10-date residency at the Gramercy Theatre in February 2023. He said he will play different songs at each performance, “200 songs over 10 nights.” Yes, another exciting Costello adventure approaches.
- Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello & the Attractions cover)
- Green Shirt (Elvis Costello & the Attractions cover)
- Either Side of the Same Town
- Hetty O’Hara Confidential (Elvis Costello song)
- Mystery Dance (Elvis Costello song)
- Watching the Detectives (Elvis Costello song)/Invisible Lady (Elvis Costello & Charles Mingus collaboration)
- You Belong to Me (Elvis Costello & the Attractions cover, with Nicole Atkins)
- My Most Beautiful Mistake (with Nicole Atkins)
- Still Too Soon to Know (Elvis Costello song, with Nicole Atkins)
- Penelope Halfpenny
- What if I Can’t Give You Anything but Love?
- I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind (Brinsley Schwarz cover, with Allan Mayes – RUSTY)
- Surrender to the Rhythm (Brinsley Schwarz cover, with Allan Mayes – RUSTY)
- Indoor Fireworks (Elvis Costello song, with Nick Lowe)
- (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding (Brinsley Schwarz cover, with Nick Lowe)
- (I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea (Elvis Costello & the Attractions cover, with “Happy Birthday to You” sung for Charlie Sexton, and a snippet of the Free’s “All Right Now”)
- Magnificent Hurt
- Pump It Up (Elvis Costello song)
- Alison (Elvis Costello song)