Elvis Costello has not played Western New York often during his several decades as one of pop music's finest composers. Most recently, he performed a set with pianist Steve Nieve at the Albright-Knox, and he appeared in an abbreviated opening slot when the Police stopped by HSBC Arena during their reunion tour. But a full-on, full-band Elvis show has not been ours to enjoy in a long while.
Which may explain the fact that the hard-core, devout Costello clan assembled on the waterfront to welcome their man and his outstanding Imposters -- essentially, the Attractions without original bassist Bruce Thomas. What a show we got, one that certainly felt well worth the wait. Costello pulled from every aspect of his catalog, which is one of the most dense of any artist from his generation. He's done jazz- and classical-based projects, gone "country" and revealed the depth of his historical knowledge as host of his own music-themed television series. But what we wanted around here was a killer, guitar-heavy Costello show, one where the band breathed fire into some of the finest songs of our time.
That's what we got. Costello with a rapid-fire run through tunes that would make any songwriter proud -- "I Hope You're Happy Now," "Heart of the City," "Radio Radio" and "Mystery Dance," rockers all, but with the sweetest of McCartney-esque melody lines. Then came the first of the evening's many peaks, in the form of the timeless soul-pop nugget "Every Day I Write the Book." The crowd sang along on command, Costello appeared pleased, and we were off and running headlong into a killer set that was highlighted by a surprising amount of viscerally commanding guitar solos from the man himself.
During a brisk-tempoed take on "Turpentine," keyboardist Nieve played theremin, and set the stage for a lengthy guitar solo from Costello, who seemed to be fully partaking of the pleasures afforded by an abused wah-wah pedal. He blew another killer solo during an inspired reading of "Clubland," added significant guitar grit and muscle to the previously clean and neat "Beyond Belief," and simply burned through a punk-fueled "Stella Hurt."
With drummer Pete Thomas, bassist Davey Farraghar and the aforementioned Nieve, Costello can boast of one of the finest rock ensembles going. Together, they subtly altered the arrangements known and loved by the truest of fans, among them a dub-informed "Watching the Detectives" and a sublime rendition of the gorgeous ballad "Shipbuilding." This was simply the most any tenured fan of the man and the band could have hoped for. He concluded by covering the Who's "Substitute," and doing an extended version of "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding."
A strong set of punk-blues-garage rock from New York City's Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers got us all fired up for the main event. Performing tunes from their most recent album, the critically acclaimed "Teenage and Torture," the band -- Ray on vocals and harmonium, which she rocked like a mad woman all evening long; bassist Nick Hurdley; guitarist Andrew Bailey; and drummer John Adamski -- brought an esoteric take on hyper-punk to the party.
Our own Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers celebrated the release of an awesome new album, "Songs of Guilt and Revenge," with a set that highlighted most of that record, and was warmly received by the crowd. Norris, with guitarist Roger Bryan, bassist Andy Vaeth and drummer Jeff Pietrzak, brought bright power-pop, Kinks-like anthems -- "We Know (Who We Are)" -- and deeply felt indie-rock ballads.
> CONCERT REVIEW
Elvis Costello & the Imposters
Part of the Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor Concert Series. Saturday evening at the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf.