Imposter Syndrome: Elvis Costello & The Imposters at UPAC on March 2 | Music | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

“If you hear something tonight, you may never hear it again,” Elvis Costello announced from the stage of UPAC in Kingston on Thursday, March 2. He and his band had just performed 10 nights at the Gramercy Theater in New York City, where they rarely repeated a song—that’s 225 distinct tunes.

Elvis is a little chubbier than he was in 1977, like most of us. His hairline has receded. His trademark black-rimmed eyeglasses have been replaced by sunglasses. (But every person in his band, except the drummer, is bespectacled.) You’ll be happy to know that Mr. Costello doesn’t tint his hair. In fact, he looks like what he started out as: a harried office clerk.

In a blaze of invention, Costello wrote a string of intelligent pseudo-punk songs in the late 70s, a few of which were top 40 hits. But in the intervening years he never stopped putting our records, exploring numerous genres, and collaborating with Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash, Kid Rock, Lee Konitz, Ruben Blades, Tony Bennett, and Burt Bacharach. Once the proverbial “angry young man,” he’s now more like an amiable but subversive visiting uncle.

In some ways Costello reminds me of Bob Dylan: he’s allowed to re-interpret his songs, and performs small, misbegotten guitar solos that are somehow endearing. Often after a song he raises his arms in mock triumph, like a championship wrestler who’s just pinned his opponent. If rock has an antihero, it’s Elvis.

And he’s trained his audience well. They don’t expect hits, just curious oddities from his 26 albums, with an occasional familiar oldie—and witty, knowing introductions. His vocal range is not vast, but his musical interests are. Clearly he began as a young Englishman obsessed with American rockabilly, Broadway musicals, soul, country, and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll. No doubt his weirdest selection tonight was an obscure Texan song from 1965 entitled “ I Don’t Want Your Lyndon Johnson,” which contains the immortal lines:

Give me that wine! / Give me that wine! / Because I can’t get well / Without muscatel.

Costello revealed that “Radio Radio” was written in response to Bruce Springsteen’s songs about cars, girls, and radios. He slowed down “Watching the Detectives,” giving it a reggae feel. “New Lace Sleeves” segued into the classic “What Kind of Fool Am I?” He delivered an absolutely heartfelt (and danceable) “Every Day I Write the Book.”

Most rock musicians are either 10 years older or 40 years younger than me, but Mr. Costello is just one year my junior, so I could easily imagine myself up on that stage, with my arthritic knees and bunions, attempting to relive the dangerous guitar antics of my youth.

“We just went to Atlantic City—the jewel of New Jersey,” Elvis remarked. “Atlantic City is the place where souls hang around after they die in Reno.” He almost qualifies as a standup comedian. (Even his name suggests a primal rock star merged with Abbott and Costello.)

“Is it too late…?” he asked. “Is it too late to announce my candidacy for President?”

Elvis’ band, The Imposters, consists of Steve Nieve on keyboards, Pete Thomas on drums, Davey Faragher on bass (including electric standup bass) and Charlie Sexton on guitar. Perhaps the monitors weren’t working, because the band was often out of sync, especially early in the show.

Elvis enjoys teasing the crowd. Would he really end the evening with a long self-pitying song entitled “The Man You Love to Hate”? No, right after that he launched into a rousing string of early hits: “Alison,” “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” “Pump It Up,” ending with the inverted hippie anthem “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?” as we all bobbed our heads in silent agreement.

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