Following his own beat

  • By Alan Sculley / Special to The Herald
  • Thursday, March 31, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

To say that 2004 was a banner year for veteran rocker Elvis Costello wouldn’t be an understatement.

Fresh off touring behind his stirring 2002 rock album, “When I Was Cruel,” Costello released two very different – and acclaimed – CDs on Sept. 21, the rocking, album “The Delivery Man” and his classical work, “Il Sogno.”

Then last December, Costello capped off his impressive year with three Grammy nominations – including one for best rock performance by a duo or group with vocals for the song “Monkey to Man” and best rock album for “The Delivery Man.”

When the winners were announced in February, Costello was nowhere to be seen. To Costello, who was up against U2 in the song category and Green Day’s “American Idiot” for the best album honor, there was no point in attending the Grammys. Costello knew, he said during an interview at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin in March, that he had no chance to beat that competition.

“From where I was standing, I was happier to be in a club with the Killers or the Gorillaz or whoever they are and (skip) the madness for noble reasons, while the monolith that is U2 crushed us under their jackboot,” Costello said.

That sort of practical outlook, laced with self-deprecating humor and a good deal of genuine humility, was frequently on display as Costello was quizzed at South By Southwest by Bill Flanagan, a veteran music journalist and senior vice president at MTV, for about 75 minutes.

During the wide-ranging interview, Costello, who as perhaps the most talented member of the first wave of punk-new wave artists of the late 1970s is clearly one of rock’s most influential artists, said that he no longer harbors any great hopes of having hit records. Instead, he said he’s pleased that a core audience buys his records and enables him to tour as a headliner worldwide playing the kinds of shows he wants, rather than being relegated to some nostalgia circuit trotting out a few hits as part of some package tour.

And for all the respect Costello has gained, not only for making some of the most memorable, intelligent and downright entertaining rock of the past 28 years, but for his non-rock collaborations with such luminaries as the Brodsky Quartet and Burt Bacharach, he also said he is fully aware there millions of people who have no idea who he is or what his albums are named.

As Costello explained, he still loves the art of live performance, something his plans to play 200 shows this year would seem to prove. That enjoyment of the concert stage was also evident during Costello’s headlining set that evening at La Zona Rosa in Austin.

Joined by his stellar backing band, the Imposters, Costello rollicked through a two-hour, 15-minute set that featured most of the songs from “The Delivery Man,” a number of fan favorites (“Mystery Dance,” “Radio Radio,” “Pump It Up”), as well as a few songs that haven’t been regular parts of his live set in years – including “Blame It On Cain” from his debut album, “My Aim Is True” and a fevered take on “Why Don’t You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)?” from his country album, “Almost Blue.”

This sort of stirring performance is nothing new to fans who have seen Costello perform – either with his original backing band, the Attractions, or with The Imposters, which he formed during the making of “When I Was Cruel.”

Associated Press

Elvis Costello performs Thursday in Seattle.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters

8 p.m. Thursday, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle. $27, $37, $57, 206-628-0888.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters

8 p.m. Thursday, Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle. $27, $37, $57, 206-628-0888.

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