Sometimes you tour just to tour. That’s the ethos Elvis Costello and his Imposters brought to the State Theatre with their “JusTrust” show Saturday night. No new album to promote; the band simply is out there to play, and they simply ask the audience to trust them.
And Costello, the new wave survivor and tireless interpreter of all manner of chamber pop and torch music, has earned our trust.
Was it a greatest hits show? Well, yes… and also, no. Take a look at that setlist below. You know the words to most of those songs, but the arrangements might have thrown you for a loop. The show was an adventurous trip through Costello’s body of work, and a tantalizing tiny sliver of a glimpse into what’s to come.
Opening to the strains of gospel music and testifying, Elvis strode onstage looking a bit like our own beloved Prince, or maybe more like Beck, with a sequined black jacket and a badass red hat tilted ever so slightly just right.
The proceedings opened with 1981’s bouncy “Strict Time,” then with a quick “Good evening, friends,” Costello tore it up with “Clubland,” from the same album, Trust. Always a bit underrated as a guitarist, he really played the hell out of his Fender. The song turned into a long jam, which telegraphed how the evening would go. “Green Shirt” had a more pronounced guitar snarl, and the whole song took on an otherworldly “space disco” sound.
Costello lauded the grandeur of the surroundings, saying that the band hadn’t always played “beautiful palaces” like the State. He reminisced about the long-gone local punk-rock ground zero, Jay’s Longhorn. Elvis said that they “used to play the littlest club in town… and then everyone claimed to have been there.”
His storytelling was funny, a little rambling, and ended with a recollection of “trying to rid the world of alcohol” and waking up in a taxi either in extreme southern Texas or northern Mexico in love with the driver. Unfortunately, she was into Pink Floyd, and Elvis… wasn’t. We’ve all been there.
Returning to the music, Costello and the Imposters served up a stately, soaring version of 1979’s “Accidents Will Happen.” Like a good number of songs, the version was slightly different in feel. A little loungey? Maybe a little. It kept the audience on their toes, as we were singing along.
Then it was 1-2-3-4-ROCKANDROLL for This Year’s Model’s “Lip Service,” played straight and aimed for the gut. Costello continued to mine his past with a very R&B version of “New Lace Sleeves” and a murderously slow “Little Triggers” before waxing poetic about records and his parents.
“I wouldn’t be here without records,” Costello said. “Everything I know is from records, and the occasional comic book or pulp novel.” Apparently, his parents met from opposite sides of a record store counter; he appropriately dedicated 2002’s groovy and elastic “45” to them.
“(I Don’t Want to) Go to Chelsea” turned into an extended psychedelic romp, and a dubbed-out version of 1977’s “Watching the Detectives” told a longer story than the one from My Aim Is True.
Costello promised new music in 2020 in the form of a planned stage musical adaptation of A Face in the Crowd about a “good for nothing, double-talking, hard-drinking, pill-popping hillbilly from Fox, Wyoming.” Saturday night the audience heard the title track and the killer “Blood & Hot Sauce.”
Elvis played these two songs at longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve’s grand piano, and the latter really referred back to the gospel sounds that opened the show. It was a mini revival with just Costello and his backing singer bringing the soul.
When Elvis returned to his beloved guitar, the set got louder, and the full house started to consider standing up.
“Pump It Up” did the trick.
From then on, the band disposed of all sonic experimentation, and simply brought the fire. By the time of band introductions, everyone (at least on the main floor) was on their feet and cheering.
“Radio, Radio” was a reminder of Elvis’s punk rock roots. Everything about the song is defiant. If you haven’t seen the footage of Elvis Costello and the Attractions on Saturday Night Live in 1977, do yourself a solid. The song, on vinyl or in concert, is always an ass-kicker. Then “Alison” proved not to have lost any of its tortured creepiness through the years.
Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” was a perfect ending. Costello may not have written it, but it really is as much his at this point. The world’s a mess, so what’s wrong with aiming for something better? Deliver the message with ringing guitar and whip crack drums? Yes, please.
There was no encore, and that was sort of fabulous. It’s not like the audience was cheated. Count ’em. That is a 20.5 song set list delivered in just under two hours. What else could a fan want? Elvis left the building better than he found it.
Be Real (snippet of Sir Douglas Quintet song)
Accidents Will Happen
New Lace Sleeves
(I Don’t Want to) Go to Chelsea
Stations of the Cross
Watching the Detectives
A Face in the Crowd
Blood & Hot Sauce
Monkey to Man
Pump It Up
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding
The crowd: Black puffer coats, gray hair, chunky glasses, and skinny jeans.
Overheard in the crowd: "Add a drummer, and this could be a Grateful Dead show."
Random notebook dump: Not one song from 2018’s Look Now? I trust you, Mr. McManus, but not one?