Friday, May 2, 2014


Hamer Hall, 17 Apr

Trapped in our comfy seats by the politeness a place like this engenders (and a determination to get value out of the $140 ticket price), the largely middle-aged audience are respectfully attentive to support act Thelma Plum.

Quite what separates Plum from the several hundred other Waifs-ish sweetly gritty voiced folk artists this country can boast is unclear. Giving the spectacular acoustics little to work with besides forgettable songs about ex-boyfriends and a tame cover of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game, accompanying guitarist Liam Gerner however, uses her work as a springboard for some inspired axe-work. Plum’s brash likeability eases the transition from folk festival to classical venue, and closing song Dollar – with some hilariously arrhythmic clapping from the audience – is the high point of a tricky set.

With no ceremony but to raucous fanfare Elvis Costello and the Imposters set about playing a curious set. Unlike 2013’s Spinning Wheel of Song tour sending us down memory lane, tonight is a litany of reminders of his rich, less-visited catalogue. An opening salvo of Brilliant Mistake, Blue Chair and Seconds of Pleasure shows we’re getting a set he wants to play. And so we move thematically through Costello’s “Easter pageant” section, in which he plays songs he’s written about resurrection (Stations of the Cross, Suit of Lights, Ascension Day and He Came Back), and a tribute to recently dead songwriting legend Jesse Winchester (Quiet About It and Dancing the Night Away), that gives Costello a chance to tell some self-deprecating stories and pay tribute to a hero.

Better known tracks are saved for an encore that lasts as long as the preceding set. Costello, who turns sixty this year, comes alive on a stellar version of Watching the Detectives with an interlude of Walk Us Uptown, from his curious yet successful collaboration with The Roots. Shipbuilding gets a haunting reinvention courtesy of keyboard legend Steve Nieve, and near-glam takes of Alison, Beyond Belief, I Want You and the erstwhile (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding shows Costello is still finding inspiration in his back catalogue. Energised, canonical takes on Oliver’s Army, Pump It Up and (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea ensure that, even as we call out for still more, no one leaves feeling ripped off.

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