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Concert Reviews:
Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint channel New Orleans in Ann Arbor
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

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ANN ARBOR -- Early on in his Ann Arbor Summer Festival show at Hill Auditorium, Elvis Costello joked that he's performed in New Orleans a relatively few times in his career.

"There's so much music there already, they didn't need us," the British singer and songwriter noted with a smile.

Fortunately, he never let that discourage him.

Costello's appearance was part of his live extension of "The River in Reverse," his new album collaboration with New Orleans songwriting and producing legend Allen Toussaint. Joined also by the Crescent City Horns and regular Toussaint guitarist Anthony "AB" Brown, Costello and his band, the Imposters, delivered a marathon two-hour and 50-minute show as essential and definitive as any he's put on before, delving into one of his root influences and letting it embellish the rest of his repertoire.

The 36-song concert showcased the entirety of "The River in Reverse" (which was produced by Rochester Adams alumnus Joe Henry), a combination of earlier Toussaint compositions along with five new songs written with Costello, as well as selections from Costello's canon -- many of which sported fresh Toussaint arrangements. They 10-piece troupe also handled a few other N'awlins gems, such as Dave Bartholomew's "That's How You Got Killed Before" (which Costello has recorded), Naomi Neville's "A Certain Girl" and "Fortune Teller," and the Toussaint-Lee Dorsey classic "Working in a Coal Mine."

Costello and Toussaint also delivered a rendition of the latter's "What Do You Want the Girl to Do," which they recorded for "The River in Reverse" but did not include.

The post-Katrina political undercurrent that informs the album was evident, but not overstated, in the show. It was no accident that Costello and the Imposters opened the concert with Nick Lowe's "Peace, Love and Understanding," or that keyboardist Steve Nieve tossed bits of "Singing in the Rain" into the song. But with only a few sharp comments, Costello and company let the music do the talking, and the night was as much a celebration of the enduring spirit of New Orleans and its culture as it was a lamentation of the hurricane and its botched aftermath.

The newly recast Costello songs in particular were revelations throughout the performance. The horns pumped potent juice into "Monkey Man," "Watching the Detectives," "Tears Before Bedtime," "Bedlam," "Dust," "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" and "High Fidelity." New overtures graced "Alison" and "Clubland," while slower fare such as "Poisoned Rose" and "The Greatest Love" were treated with such delicate subtlety that Costello should cement those arrangements into his song book.

It was simply one of those special nights that you'd like to see happen again (and again) but are happy to have it occur once. New Orleans clearly has a valuable, and genuine, friend in Costello, and we're fortunate he wants to share that affection with his audience.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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