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for December 27, 2002

Still Bringing It. In Truckloads.
by Marci Surpin

Artist: Elvis Costello
Venue: Long Beach Terrace Theater; Long Beach, CA
Date: October 1, 2002

The Long Beach Terrace Theater is a venue on the scale of Radio City Music Hall in both size and plushness, although in a late sixties-early seventies architectural style. The opening band was Phantom Planet. Several years ago someone recommended that I purchase the cd "Phantom Planet is Missing." Didn't particularly care for it. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't terribly good. They're a LA band, and the drummer is the guy who was in "Rushmore." He's a good drummer, but seeing them live did not change my opinion of them.
My ticket was procured by my friend Severo Jornacion. Severo plays bass for Cockeyed Ghost, and is involved in other projects, notably as the substitute bassist in the Smithereens (Mike Mesaros doesn't want to tour all the time), and in an Elvis Costello cover project called "This Year's Model." He is a devoted Costello fan of long standing (a fact that will play into this story eventually.)
Severo, his girlfriend Anne, and their friend Dana were a little late. I had been waiting for them in front of the theater, practically hopping on one foot because I needed to use the restroom, but couldn't get in until they arrived with my ticket. So when they did show up, I grabbed the ticket and ran inside. Consequently, I wasn't aware that we weren't sitting together until a bit later.
My seat was great. Smack in the middle of the first row of the balcony. Completely, totally, and absolutely unobstructed. There was nothing between me and Elvis except air. A very large amount of air, yes, but an incredible sightline.
I chatted a little with the gentleman sitting next to me while looking for Severo et al. between the sets. When I couldn't spot Severo, I went back out to the lobby and did a very LA thing: I called him on my cell phone. He was a level below, waving up at me. Sheesh. Turns out he and Anne and Dana have seats on the floor. A friend of his had purchased my seat but couldn't go. Then the gentleman in the seat next to me walked up to us and paid Severo for *his* seat.
Turns out our paths have crossed before but neither of us remembered. His name is Brian Kassan and he currently is the keyboardist for This Year's Model, but his other gig is with Chewy Marble, another SoCal pop band. He was in the first lineup of the Wondermints (he's on the first album and then he left to form his Chewy Marble) and also worked with the Liquor Giants on their album "Every Other Day at a Time".
The show started with a recorded version of the William Tell Overture and blinding blue lights shining straight out into the audience. Then Elvis and his current band, The Imposters, took the stage and ripped into "I Hope You're Happy Now," followed by "Tear Off Your Own Head," "Accidents Will Happen," and "Party Girl."
There was a little break where Elvis discussed his appearance on Leno the previous night, musing that perhaps it's time to give it all up when they send a larger limo for Sweetpea, the World's Smartest Dog. Then he did "Spooky Girlfriend" from "When I Was Cruel", "Honey Are You Straight or Are You Blind?," "'45," and a song I forgot to write down. [If online setlists are to be believed, it was "The Judgment" - Ed.] Back to some older stuff with "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down," "Hi Fidelity," and "Man Out Of Time," which inspired a huge, emotional reaction from the crowd.
Brian leaned over and asked if I had been at the Kodak Theater show. I hadn't, but he said that the sound in Long Beach was better and that the show was better paced.
Then Elvis went acoustic. The sound was incredible--it was a great space for an amplified acoustic. He did "Indoor Fireworks," another song I didn't write down, "Tart," "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," which slid into Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold On Me." This led into the political portion of our evening, an acoustic version of "Shipbuilding," followed by an electric version of "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?"
Then it was encore time, or at least first encore time:"Epsode of Blonde," a rather frenetic version of "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea," and "King of America," which the Imposters embellished with fantastic harmonies.
For the second encore, Elvis opened with suggesting that we go down to Blockbuster and steal the "Big Lebowski" DVD, because in the scene where Jeff Bridges goes to the dentist you can hear "My Mood Swings" through the headphones. He said that they were offered the Oscar for that bit but they turned it down because it was just too passÚ. He followed "My Mood Swings" with a long, extended and quite a hypnotic version of "When I Was Cruel."
Second encore: "Allison," which bled into "Suspicious Minds."
Third encore: "Pump It Up," a scary, almost tear-inducing version of "I Want You," and a seugue into a very emotional "Almost Blue."
And finally, the lights came up. Brian and I were talking while waiting for Severo and Company. We couldn't pile superlatives on fast enough. His voice sounds great. He's been pouring it on every night of this tour and it's strong and clear.
But the larger issue is something I've been mulling over since I caught the Violent Femmes on Carson Daly's late show a few weeks ago: that of aging well in rock n' roll. Elvis Costello is re-writing the playbook. He could be touring around and phoning it in with limp versions of "Allison" and "Pump It Up.' People would still pay to see the Angry Young Man of "My Aim is True" and "Armed Forces." And he is still doing material from that period, but there's another layer of depth there.
I'm not sure I'm explaining this well, but here goes: he's managed to deepen the emotional bond he has with his audience. One of the surprises of the night (for me) was how nuts the audience went over "Man Out of Time"-- a sweeping, complex song--and not the sort of thing that would inspire beer-soaked frat brothers to raise their fists in the air a lÓ "Pump It Up." And the final encore. We both know how quiet moments in a song are interpeted by some as their cue to yell and whoop. Yet during "I Want You" and "Almost Blue," he had beaten the audience into complete and total submission. During the puases in those numbers dead silence reigned--and this was after and entire evening filled with whoopin' and hollerin'.
A wonderful post-script for the evening was that I was able to meet and talk with Elvis for a moment. After the show Brian and I were in the lobby, keeping an eye out for Severo, who never shows up. I remembered that, oh yeah, I have a cellphone and called Severo (again). Where are you , Severo? Backstage. What can we do about this, Severo? Start walking.
Somehow, I managed to evade the the first cordon of security guards and Severo talked me past the second. The green room was rather low-key. Only 20 people and no post-show spread--just an ice tub filled with soft drinks and a few beers. I think what's-his-name from Phantom Planet/Rushmore was there. Elvis and the Imposters came in and were talking with the entrourage. Severo, Anne, Dana and I were sitting on a couch in the corner, trying to be inobstrusive. Turns out Severo has been doing this for around fifteen years--he probably knows Pete Thomas around as well as I know Jim Babjak, and knows a management type well enough that he gets left a guest pass. Everyone shmoozes for around 10-15 minutes, and Elvis decides that it's time to leave.
He says goodnight to the main crowd, then spots us in the corner and comes over. Greetings, introductions and handshakes are exchanged, Elvis hopes that we enjoyed the show. We assure him that it was incredible, everyone wishes everyone a pleasant evening and safe travels, and that's it. Within fifteen minutes I'm back on the freeway.
A great artist and a nice man.

©2002 Marci Surpin

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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