The Boy Named If tour reaches London, offering a career spanning set of undimmed showmanship
Elvis Costello & The Imposters complete their ‘The Boy Named If and Other Favourites’ tour of British venues in June at London’s Eventim Apollo – or ‘Hammersmith Odeon’ as Costello still calls it when the band arrive on stage for an entertaining gig lasting two and a quarter hours. The Imposters are two out of the three Attractions – keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas – plus bassist Davey Faragher (with Bruce Thomas persona non grata). On this tour they are boosted by the addition of guitarist Charlie Sexton (who has played in Bob Dylan’s backing band). It’s supposedly a promotion of Elvis Costello and the Imposters’ recently released fourth album The Boy Named If – but it’s way more than that.
Now with an amazing 33 albums stretching back 45 years, Costello has an impressive back catalogue to draw on. It’s interesting to note that the band have had the confidence to vary their set list during this tour much more than most performers. This final concert features a quirky – and sometimes baffling – choice of songs from his eclectic career. There are surprisingly only five tracks from the excellent The Boy Named If, as well as a couple of previous ones with The Imposters, early hits with The Attractions, songs created with other collaborators, some from solo albums, and even a few unreleased songs. Costello has always revelled in being unpredictable.
The band get going with two tracks from the album Oliver’s Army, when Costello was at his most commercially successful with the Attractions in the late ’70s/early ’80s: the catchy single Accidents Will Happen and the lesser-known Green Shirt, but not the title track – their biggest hit – which he has decided no longer to perform because of the use of the N-word in the lyrics.
Strangely, it is not until five songs in that they play something from The Boy Named If: a punchy account of The Death Of Magic Thinking, with its staccato drumbeat. The others appear much later in the evening, as if they want to warm up the audience with some old favourites before delivering the new stuff. They include the soulful What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love? and Magnificent Hurt, a return to the band’s new wave roots.
There are a couple of tracks from his last solo album in 2020, Hey Clockface, which show him still innovating musically: the noirish Hetty O’Hara Confidential and the disturbing Newspaper Pane. His very first solo hit single (just before teaming up with the Attractions) Watching The Detectives is given a new treatment, with its reggae beat merging into the jazzy Invisible Lady (a former collaboration with the Charles Mingus Orchestra). And the much-loved ballad Shipbuilding is complemented by the Spanish-tinged Cinco Minutos Con Vos (Five Minutes With You), which Costello did with US hip-hop group The Roots, revealing two sides of the Falklands War.
The band return to more familiar ground to round the evening off. The George Jones country cover Good Year For The Roses sees him in full crooning mode, while (I Don’t Want To Go to) Chelsea from Costello and The Attractions’ debut album This Year’s Model goes down a storm. There is a tender version of fan favourite Alison before recent rocker Farewell, OK does indeed spell the end of the show.
Now 67, Costello may be thicker of waist and thinner of hair these days, but even if his voice has lost some of its power he remains an expressive vocalist (sometimes using a vintage mic for a different effect) and his showmanship is undimmed. He marshals the audience to sing and clap along, joking and chatting a lot between songs, including reminiscing about his first band Rust (who recently reunited to release their debut album after 50 years!), proclaiming his love for second-hand record shops and reigniting his spat on Twitter with Rod Stewart over the Platinum Party of the Palace. Near the end of the gig Elvis once again calls out the name of each band member who get a much deserved ovation, finally saying ‘Stand up for the drummer’– so that everyone in the all-seater arena gets to their feet for the rest of the show while the band pumps it up.