(Click on the above and go to the bottom right for a link to download a recording of the show. An mp3 version is available here.)
Fifteen years ago today, Elvis Costello & The Imposters played a slick Vegas venue inside the Hard Rock Hotel. Those who listened to the 2014 EC & The Roots post from a few weeks back know how rowdy casino crowds can be — at one point Elvis has to tell the folks here to “shut the fuck up,” and as you might expect, he doesn’t do it jokingly. But for the most part, they behave themselves: this 2005 audience sounds more than ready to devour old favorites like “Radio Radio” and “Uncomplicated” and “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea” — and rightly so, because the Imposters were tearing through those songs like lions at Circus Circus gnawing on meat.
Of course, the band was also playing marvelous versions of songs from The Delivery Man, which was brand-new at the time. Listen to the boys snap into lockstep behind Elvis early on in a bare-toothed “Needle Time,” say, or to their unobtrusive, soulful backing for “Country Darkness,” a beautiful ballad that in a perfect world would have been recorded at some point by Ray Charles, or maybe Bobbie Gentry. Good as they are, these aren’t songs that are easy to take in on a first listen; the crowd, to their credit, do hoot and holler for the title track, which is impressive — or maybe it was just impossible, even for folks soused on comped cocktails from the craps table, to overlook EC’s impassioned, uh, delivery of the song’s gothic soap opera lyrics. Surely even those still unfamiliar with the new tunes, particularly in Las Vegas, had to perk up whenever Elvis sang his own name — listen to him spit it out near the song’s end, like he’s trying to goad or to goose those who still revere the King.
There are plenty of highlights here. You can discover plenty for yourselves, but if you need me to sell you on the tape, I’ll point out that this show fell during that brief period when “Our Little Angel” was a regular in the setlist; that there’s a snippet of “Suspicious Minds” in “Alison”; that Costello does that weird thing with the melody to “I Feel Pretty” in the middle of “Clubland”; and that whatever the heck Steve is doing during “Monkey To Man” sounds amazing, though it’s possible that’s just bleed-through from a Laser Tag pavilion next door on the Strip. The recording is pretty good — kudos to whoever found such a nice sweet spot in the room, and fended off most of the chitchatterers around him for at least the second half of the show. The last few songs turn a little dull, like a mic had to be concealed or something; don’t let that put you off. It still sounds just fine.
The Delivery Man is a personal favorite, so I cannot urge you strongly enough to go buy it if you don’t have it. If you do have it, dig it out and listen. No matter how good you remember it being, it’s even better than that. While you’re at it, scrounge up the Clarksdale Sessions EP that came out at the same time. It’s superb as well. And enjoy this tape. It’s a nice one.
Buy The Delivery Man.