From Billy Bob to Elvis
Elvis Costello - Billy Bob Thornton
Chicago Theatre - Chicago, IL
June 10, 2002
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2002, Volume 9, #7
Written by John Metzger
In the realm of rock concerts, one has to look pretty hard to find a more unusual pairing than Billy Bob Thornton and Elvis Costello. Then again, music is Thornton’s self-proclaimed first love, and Costello has delved into so many diverse projects, it’s hard to tell which audience he will alienate next. So, in a way, it’s not surprising that this double bill actually worked.
Not that Thornton has anywhere near the vocal range of Costello. Nor does he have Costello’s knack for crafting clever lyrics. But Thornton does know how to entertain. His self-deprecating humor added a little levity to his sometimes off-balance set, and when he delved deeper into his psyche — as on Dark and Mad and the title track from his recent album Private Radio — he proved to be a better than adequate songwriter as well.
As for Costello, his recently released When I Was Cruel finds him re-entering the arena of rock ’n‘ roll, and his latest band — The Imposters — made for a more than suitable replacement for The Attractions. Not that the two ensembles are all that different. The Imposters include both keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, while adding bass player Davey Faragher. And, together, they were truly formidable, capable of following Costello wherever he might lead. The group easily traversed the moves necessary to deliver the jazz-infused Clown Strike as well as the art-house ambience of When I Was Cruel.
But the real story is just how raucous and rowdy Costello and The Imposters got. Ever since his debut, Costello has filtered the music of the ’50s and ’60s through a punk rock haze. And, his latest outing takes a similar — if somewhat more elaborate — approach. In concert, however, the new compositions were stripped down to their essence and served straight-up, while injected with an extra dose of adrenaline for good measure. As a result, each of the new songs was brought full circle, back to Costello’s angry beginnings. The driving rhythms of 15 Petals furiously crashed like waves against a craggy coastline of synthesized horns, while Tear off Your Own Head exploded like a bottle of rocket fuel. So, it wasn’t surprising that the songs fit so snugly alongside such old-favorite pulse-pounding selections as You Belong to Me, Lipstick Vogue, and Pump It Up. But it was Watching the Detectives that stole the show. Here, the group took its Ventures-on-speed surf rock, fitted it with a reggae beat, and shredded it into shrapnel over the thoroughbred clatter of throbbing drums and shrieking guitar. In other words, though several decades have passed and Costello’s musical tastes and accomplishments have become more varied, he can still deliver rock songs with the same brutal intensity as he did in his youth.
When I Was Cruel is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Private Radio is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 2002 The Music Box