DVD Review: Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Live in Memphis

November 10, 2005
Al Barger

This was filmed live in September 2004 in front of about 200 people at the Hi Tone Cafe in Memphis.

This is pretty good, and significantly disappointed me. I know that I'm one of the world's biggest Elvis Costello fanboys, and if "pretty good" is all that he's getting from me, he's not on the top of his game.

It's always good to watch Elvis work, but you definitely wouldn't take just the audio track to any of these performances in lieu of the studio recordings.

Perhaps he was just trying too hard. A lot of these songs are a little rushed, as if he were trying to substitute speed for enthusiasm. The worst thing, though, damning half the set is that he's sort of Dylanizing his songs, screwing around with the vocal melodies to the point of undermining the whole damned song.

On the better end, it was interesting to see his opening with "Waiting for the End of the World." That came off pretty well, as did "High Infidelity," and a good version of "Blame It On Cain." He was obviously conscious of being at rock and roll ground zero, and you could hear that Memphis soul breathing a bit of fresh life into these warhorses.

Generally, he actually did better playing the new songs from The Delivery Man, which was just a few weeks old at the time. This is one of his better albums, and he has great enthusiasm for his latest stuff. "Either Side of the Same Town" comes off pretty good, and he sells "Country Darkness" pretty well. "There's a Story in Your Voice" really needed Lucinda Williams' part, though. That one's just meant to be a duet.

Some of the older stuff, though, was flat. The audience clearly cared a lot more about "Alison" than Elvis did, and the insertion of "Suspicious Minds" completely does not work, as he didn't use the actual melody of the song. Plus, there's not much point of him singing "Radio Radio" or "Pump It Up" at this point.

Emmylou Harris stepped in for a few songs in the middle. They recreated their duet of "Heart Shaped Bruise" from The Delivery Man to pretty fair effect. The Gram Parsons song struck me as mediocre, though. Their best moment here was "I Still Miss Someone." They got a pretty fair Johnny and June vibe going there.

People sometimes criticize Elvis for insularity. The "delivery man" story would be just the kind of thing they'd probably mean. He wrote some part of a story line for this album, then ditched the story, but left lots of bits of characters and names hanging around. He took a minute here before singing the very good title song to explain the concept a bit. This clearly made it significantly worse and more annoying rather than better.

Also, along with some bonus documentary yapping, there are four additional songs not listed on the package as "bonus songs." This was an annoying tactic. You have to fool with them to get to them and watch them, and the songs would have made better sense in their original spots in the show, particularly the two Emmylou Harris songs.

"My Baby's Gone" (w/Emmylou Harris)
"There's a Story in Your Voice"
"Buttom My Lip"
"Sleepless Nights" (w/Emmylou Harris)

However, probably the best musical part of the whole set is the "bonus" performance of "Button My Lip." This was the first song off the album, and an outstanding rhythm song which benefited particularly from the whole Memphis vibe.

All in all though, this was not particularly Elvis' best night. I've seen him thrice, and a video of any of those shows would blow this away.

If you're really into Elvis, then you should definitely see this. Like I said, it's pretty good. It's just not all it should have been.

If you want Elvis video, or a good intro to Elvis for, say, some young nephew, try the recently released compilation plus live clips The Right Spectacle.


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