Elvis Costello’s last couple of tours have been colourful, high concept affairs with a celebratory, carnival atmosphere buoyed along by a generous helping of his biggest hits.
Elvis Costello & the Imposters | Barrowland, Glasgow | Rating ****
But the only carnival spirit at this show was the hint of fairground carousel on Sunday’s Best, a soused waltz from his 1979 album Armed Forces which, on the one hand, invoked Barrowland’s ballroom history, but sounded disturbingly apt in the light of Brexit: “times are tough for English babies… beat up strangers who talk funny”.
So this was not Costello in playful fairground barker mode, but eloquently raging across a much broodier and bloodier garage band performance with The Imposters, which was stripped of stagecraft but not short on sonic thrills. I was reminded of the drive and simplicity of Springsteen’s recent visit to the city – minimal chat but meaty delivery, with the band tearing from song to song while exploring the possibilities in the music.
But where Springsteen’s bumper set was overall a feelgood affair, this was a focused feelbad set, fuelled by the breaking news that Boris Johnson had been installed as foreign minister and the grim realisation that the many political numbers in the show, stretching back almost 40 years, could have been written over the last month or so. The rollicking Oliver’s Army took on added heft in the wake of the Chilcot Report; likewise, a loose, jazzy take on his Falklands war classic Shipbuilding was straining at its anchor ahead of the Trident debate.
Proving that he didn’t write all his best protestations as an angry young man, there were a couple of selections from Wise Up Ghost, his 2013 collaboration with hip-hop group The Roots, including the funk flourishes mixed in with bursts of anger on Wake Me Up. There was a distinctly moody aspect to Stations of the Cross, even if it was difficult to make out its involved, poetic story.
He ended the main set with a thoroughly torrid (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea, Steve Nieve playing a blinder on keyboards, before a rollercoaster encore encompassing the theatricality of Pills and Soap, bittersweet last waltz of A Good Year For The Roses, triumphant celebration of (What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding? and the cold articulate fury of his Thatcher requiem Tramp The Dirt Down. Boris’s ears should have been burning.