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Review: Elvis Costello & The Imposters at the Majestic Theater, July 17, 2019

Gettysburg has been fortunate to welcome a lot of great acts in the Majestic Theater over the years. We’ve seen legends like Buckwheat Zydeco, Joan Baez, Dave Brubeck, Arlo Guthrie, and recently, Bruce Hornsby grace the stage as well as contemporary talents like Lake Street Dive and St. Paul & The Broken Bones.

However, in all the years since the theater’s rebirth, few acts I can remember created a bigger buzz than the announcement that Elvis Costello was bringing his band to Gettysburg. You can’t tell the history of Rock and Roll music without accounting for his contributions. In short, the anticipation was well deserved.

Yet, one couldn’t help but wonder how our community was so lucky to host such a talent. Just a few days before embarking on a national tour, on which he was co-headlining with Blondie, Costello could have found a much larger room to kick off a tour, such as Blondie did in York. But while other area towns boast larger concert venues, Gettysburg can provide a lot to a well-traveled tour veteran such as Elvis Costello, who spent a few days rehearsing with his group at the theater, taking in the history, and enjoying all our town has to offer.

Show time came and the smiling faces passing under the marquee and into the lobby all seemed to acknowledge the rare and unique circumstances that brought us together. Expectations were high. Those expectations were soon rewarded.

The house lights went dim and some chaotic audio piped through the speakers while the band took the stage, allowing the thumping bassline of “Pump it Up” to take everyone by surprise. The lights came up full with Elvis, front and center, pounding out the chords on his fuzzed out Fender Jazzmaster and everything was perfect. The band followed that up with great versions of two mainstays from Elvis’ early repertoire, “Clubland” and “Accidents Will Happen” – sounding very much like they were at the middle of their long tour rather than at the very beginning, locked in tight and on point. Of course, having Pete Thomas (drums) and Steve Nieve (keys) alongside helps, each of them have accompanied Elvis’ live shows going back to the 70’s with The Attractions. Each song was followed by boisterous ovations from the crowd. Finally giving in and acknowledging, he remarked to the audience how great their time had been over the last few days, introduced the band, and got right back to it. The rest of the 90-minute set mixed older songs with new material and all points in between along his 40-year career.

Costello After the Majestic show/CHARLES STANGOR

In the songs leading up to the finale, Elvis showcased his two newest “Imposters,” Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee, on backing vocals including a beautiful version of his 1977 hit “Alison”. It was their contribution to a set-closing “Everyday I Write The Book” that pushed the band to new gospel-inspired heights for this finale. Coming back for a four-song encore that included “Radio, Radio” and two Nick Lowe-penned favorites: “Heart of the City” and, ultimately, “(What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” brought the crowd to their feet.

At this point in his accomplished career, an artist like Elvis Costello could still sell tickets and impress audiences without emotionally committing to the material that he’s performed thousands of times. I went to the show looking for that same fire and sandpaper grit in his performance that stood out so boldly when I first heard these songs. I left with fond memories of that stirring intensity and a whole lot more I wasn’t searching for. In the new material he performed, I saw someone who still has the passion to collaborate, create, and keep adding to his catalog of songs in ways that still feel relevant. He knows how to keep himself and his audience fresh and engaged, whether it be with new material like “Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter”, a song he wrote with Carole King which appears on his new album or bringing his talented backup singers front and center for the finale. He seemed to be as captivated by Kitten and Briana’s virtuosity as the rest of us facing the stage. It was that joy – Elvis watching those two go for it; that’s what’s going to keep him on top of his game. For one night, Gettysburg got to share that experience.

Set:

Pump It Up

Clubland

Accidents Will Happen

Green Shirt

Photographs Can Lie

Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter

Kinder Murder

Beyond Belief

Watching the Detectives

This Year’s Girl

(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea

Deep Dark Truthful Mirror

Alison

Unwanted Number

High Fidelity

Every Day I Write the Book

Encore:

A Face in the Crowd

Radio Radio

Heart of the City

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding

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Ben Wenk is a local farmer, cider-maker and musician. He is a partner at Three Springs Fruit Farm and has created Ploughman's Taproom on the Gettysburg Square.

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