Elvis Costello & the Imposters played the second night of a sold-out run at New York City’s Beacon Theater on Monday (Nov. 7) night. While the title of the show was Imperial Bedroom & Other Chambers, Costello’s 1982 classic Imperial Bedroom wasn’t played start to finish — although more than a dozen of its songs appeared during the night’s generous 33-song set list. But even with the focus of the night on an album released 12 years before first-time voters were born, the fact that this nostalgia-mining concert was going down on America’s Election Eve wasn’t lost on the English singer-songwriter.
Early in the show, Costello nodded to the U.S. presidential election with a safely neutral question: “Are we sick of it yet? You know what I’m talking about.
“Times like these I remember the words Marx said — Groucho, of course. ‘Remember to keep a civil war in your head,'” Costello quipped to quizzical faces. “Well, it’s funny when he says it,” Costello followed up, which did get a few laughs from the crowd. Costello then lead the audience in a quick call-and-response of the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers anthem “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.”
Later in the night, Costello circled back to the election and got significantly more pointed.
Mentioning his in-the-works stage musical version of the prescient, Andy Griffith-starring 1957 film A Face In the Crowd, Costello noted the story was about a man who “speaks the unthinkable and they put him on TV and the ratings are through the roof. Sound like anyone you know?”
In case that oblique Trump dig wasn’t clear enough, he finally cut loose and stuck the knife into the Republican presidential candidate. “If you’re gonna vote for a fucking orange clown, you could pick Ronald McDonald,” he told the crowd to genuine laughs and appreciative applause.
That political commentary was slipped into the second encore, which found Costello performing three unreleased songs from that upcoming A Face In the Crowd musical: The title track, “Blood & Hot Sauce” (as Costello-esque of a song title as there ever was) and “American Mirror,” which he dedicated to his American-born sons. While it was undoubtedly a risky move to play three new songs more than two hours into a nearly three-hour show, the material was sturdy enough that it kept the audience in their seats; the acerbic lyrics to “Blood & Hot Sauce” were particularly riveting.
But while Costello road-testing Broadway material in New York City and slamming Trump were the newsiest things that happened at the Beacon Theater, the majority of the night was dedicated to the past. Costello shared memories of meeting Andy Warhol at a New Year’s Eve show years ago and saluted the two members of his excellent backing band who actually played on the 1982 LP Imperial Bedroom. As for the songs from that album, Costello — who courts an image as the spokesperson for miserable romantic entanglements — seemed especially happy on stage.
Quite possibly his glee had something to do with the opportunity to dust off nearly every song (and even a demo!) from Bedroom, an LP that’s regarded as one of his classics but failed to produce any notable hits in the U.S. or U.K. Thus, while Costello has had to play “Alison” and “Everyday I Write the Book” ad infinitum over the years (and yes, he played them last night), he’s performed less-heralded Bedroom masterpieces like “Human Hands,” “The Loved Ones” and “Town Cryer” considerably fewer times over the decades — and he seemed energized while polishing these old gems.
Even though the Imperial Bedroom material is less suited for an audience sing-along (unlike the ecstatic show-closer “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”) or a middle-aged head-banging session (like “Pump It Up”), it’s a distinct pleasure to watch a rock legend relish playing decades-old classics. Maybe evenings centered around King of America or Blood & Chocolate could be next….