Elvis Costello and the Imposters made good on their request for faith as the “Just Trust” tour rolled through the Greensboro Coliseum’s Piedmont Hall on Nov. 2.
“Good evening, everybody,” Costello greeted the crowd, before clarifying, “good evening, friends.”
An artist who’s been known to tease and flirt and—especially—tell lovely stories, Costello kicked things off in proper raconteur fashion; beginning with “Strict Time,” “Club Land,” and “Green Shirt,” interwoven with tales of England in the 1970s of Leeds Polytechnique, “everything ending at 9:45 p.m.,” and the bore of eating night porter sandwiches.
Costello likened the brand-new Piedmont Hall to a palace (a room big enough for Gov. Roy Cooper to have been in attendance, largely unnoticed), stoking the flames of memory from his first U.S. tour with the Attractions in 1978. He recalled the comparative decadence they found in Howard Johnsons and roadside motels, and the love of an Arizona cab driver cut-short over a spat whether to play Freddy Fender or Pink Floyd on the radio.
“It was the end of the romance,” Costello lamented before kicking into “Accidents Will Happen,” a product of the ill-fated courtship. He acknowledged changing times throughout his career with jokes about tracking devices and incendiary inspiration as the band slid into “No Hiding Place,” followed by “Watch Your Step” and “Lover’s Walk.”
A switch to “Radio” turned the topic from spurred love to popular rebellion, before the crowd became a chorus during “Less Than Zero”—the collective cries of “hey” echoed around the huge space, a reaction not lost on the man on stage.
“I don’t take requests,” Costello teased. “This is all really a mind-reading act. I just know what you wanna hear,” he added.
Earlier motel memories foreshadowed the performance of “Motel Matches,” which rolled into a medley from “Uncomplicated” into “Shotgun.”
An artist who appreciates both the audience and band behind him, Costello repeatedly threw love to Steve Nieve on keyboards, drummer Pete Thomas, bassist/vocalist Davey Faragher, and singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee.
“I’d like to leave with a slow and spiritual number,” Costello told the audience after a round of thanks.
Spiritual indeed, Costello was brilliantly dressed in a tailored violet suit, topped with a hat—white and wide—like a renegade revival preacher. Gospel and hot-jazz found their place amongst his repertoire, particularly during two tracks from an upcoming stage-musical: “A Face In the Crowd” (which shares source material with the 1957 film of the same name, starring Andy Griffith).
“It’s a lot like the Sound of Music, but with less Nazis,” Costello explained.
Not to be pigeon-holed in one style, or side of the stage, the big band “pill-popping hillbilly” portion of the show was preceded by a tripped-out rendition of “Watching the Detectives,” with Costello’s solos steeped in deep hues before the stage went momentarily dark.
Lights returned with Costello at the piano. “Is it too late to announce my candidacy?” he said, toying the audience, fingers on the keys for “Blood and Hot Sauce,” a Dixieland diddy. The crowd continued cheering the “hip hip hooray” chorus line as Costello returned to the guitar, center-stage, regaling his backstory about pairing with Carole King for “Burnt Sugar is So Bitter.”
“High Fidelity” and “King Horse” amped the crowd to “Pump It Up,” which unleashed rapid-fire into high tempo hits “Heart of the City” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
And then quiet. Soft notes of “Alison” dropped the tone to whispered catcalls from the audience. Extended, breathy, longer and winding, it was a slow jam rendition for the couples-skate crowd. Were it the 1990s, a sea of lighters would have sparked. Instead, swells of lovers hugged and swayed as “Alison” evolved into “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me“ to end the night.
It turns out, the “Just Trust” tour name isn’t the play-on-words fans have been speculating. Clever as ever, Costello started the show with two tracks from the 1981 album Trust (released the same year Costello first played North Carolina) ending with a total of four for the Greensboro show. Fans have counted nine songs off Trust on tour thus far. Costello notoriously switches up setlists, so the future remains unwritten as to if he’ll hit every tack by tour’s end.
The theme instead nods to the mastery of catalog curation, providing a setlist for audience delight. Put simply, the tour looks to answer “many pressing questions, such as, ‘Will they play my favorite song?’ or ‘Are they going to frighten the horses with a lot of excellent songs that are rarely performed?’”
No horses were spooked during the show, but otherwise, Costello delivered—-with a joke about psychic powers to boot. Though he’s less likely a mind-reader, and more an artist who understands their work—-and the whims of his audience.
A certain kind of magic still lingers in Costello’s 40-year career. And though faith can be hard to foster, this tour proves when it comes to performing, we can still trust Elvis Costello and the Imposters.
Katei Cranford is a Triad music nerd who hosts the Tuesday Tour Report on WUAG 103.1 FM.