Roots Report: Declan MacManus at PPAC

Okee dokee folks… On Tuesday, July 25, I caught the Declan MacManus show at the Providence Performing Arts Center. If you know who that is and you attended, then you probably enjoyed the show. If you don’t know who it is then you would have had a long, somewhat painful evening. Declan, aka Elvis Costello, played the last night of his Imperial Bedroom and other Chambers tour at PPAC and gave quantity, not quality. The two and one half hour, 32-song set was mired by sound issues and an overall lackluster performance. The sound was muddy and occasionally Costello’s vocal trademark “ohhh’s” or “ayyy’s”  cut through the din. Lyrics were virtually incoherent. This had to have been the doings of Costello’s own crew because the sound at PPAC is usually great.

The show started with pre-recorded  jazzy orchestral and a flurry of album images on the video screen at the rear of the stage. Elvis entered in the darkness and waved to the crowd who were already on their feet. He was wearing a black three piece suit, a red fedora and dark glasses, and he was carrying a maroon hollow body electric guitar. His backing band, The Imposters, featured Steve Nieve on keyboard, Pete Thomas on drums and Davey Faragher on bass. The group was augmented by backing vocalists Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee. Costello went right into his first two numbers, “The Loved Ones” and “And In Every Home,” which morphed into a chorus of the Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.” Costello remarked about the venue, “The architecture outshines the beauty on the stage!” He followed with “Accidents Will Happen.” He commented that, “We’re trying to take another look at these songs and see how we feel about them now.” He was referring to his take on his 35-year-old album, Imperial Bedroom. His set continued with “Welcome To The Working Week,” “Miracle Man,” “Tears Before Bedtime” and “Moods For Moderns.” “Shabby Doll” had Costello playing lead and doing a few light Hendrix moves. A labored, extended version of “Watching The Detectives” had various pulp crime novel and movie posters flashing on the rear screen. He spoke of how TV programs like “Columbo,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Kojak” were his inspirations for the song, but then he said that he wondered what happened to the characters in the song later on. His answer to this was the next song, “The Long Honeymoon.” After a few more songs, concluding with “Pidgin English” Costello held up his guitar and signaled the end of the show. He left the stage to a standing “O.”

After a very short departure, he returned and sang into one microphone with his two back up singers and did a simple version of “Allison” accompanied only by his electric guitar. He then went to the other side of the stage with back-up singers in tow to the star covered grand piano and performed a few tunes with this simple set-up. He prefaced the song “Blood and Hot Sauce” saying, “It’s too late to announce my candidacy for high or low office, but I do have two American born sons.” “Shot With His Own Gun” followed when Steve Nieve sat down at the piano and left a sans guitar Costello to croon. Nieve’s performance took on a bit of a Liberace style and Elvis remarked, “We kidnapped him from the Royal College of Music when he was 14.” “Boy With A Problem,” a song he cowrote with Squeeze’s Chris Difford, had him singing from a lyric sheet. At the finish of the song, he stepped away from the mic to the edge of the stage and projected the final notes without amplification. He strapped on an acoustic guitar to join with the piano for “Almost Blue.” He talked about recording in a real studio for the first time and how Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Duran, Duran were down the hall. As he said this, Neive tinkled a little Duran diddy on the keys. The band retook the stage for a few more songs and then hit the home stretch with “Every Day I Write The Book,” and the band introductions as this song played out. The energy increased with the always popular “Pump It Up.” He closed the show with Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?” that had a little bit of The Who’s “Substitute” thrown into the mix.

I am a light duty Costello fan. I like his music and I have seen him in concert four or five times over the past 40 years. I usually enjoy his shows. To make my life easier to track his songs during the night, I printed out the set list of a show that he played the night before in Maine. It was a good, long, 26-song set that included many fan favorites as well as obscure numbers for the diehards. I thought that if he stuck close to this set it would be a great show. I should know that expectation always leads to disappointment. While the set at PPAC was more ambitious and included the ENTIRE Imperial Bedroom album, it excluded a couple of the fan favs he had played the night before: “Red Shoes” and “Chelsea.” The bad sound coupled with Costello’s re-imagining of a few of the songs, out-of-time singing and uninspired performance left me unfulfilled. I know many folks will disagree, especially the hardcore Elvis fans. I have to admit that these fans did get their moneys worth in songs, just not great sound or performance.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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