These are the times for birthdays in the music world. In June alone, Beatles’ fans have celebrated the 50th anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and Tom Petty’s 40th anniversary tour rolled into Kansas City for a sold-out show at the Sprint Center.
Elvis Costello is commemorating a milestone, too, though perhaps not one as celebrated as the others. Friday night, Costello and his band, the Imposters, brought their Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers Tour to Crossroads KC and a crowd of more than 1,200. The two-hour show honors the 35th anniversary of “Imperial Bedroom,” Costello’s seventh full-length album, released in July 1982, five years after “My Aim Is True,” his debut album.
“Imperial Bedroom” signified a shift in songwriting and recording for Costello, a profound departure from his signature punchy, poppy and high-speed new-wave sounds into songs that were more baroque and more lavishly produced and into lyrics that were more contemplative and bleak. Because of its rich production, many “Bedroom” songs were difficult to duplicate into live performances and never made it into his set lists until this tour.
Costello brought with him his three-piece band, the Imposters: Pete Thomas on drums and the incomparable Steve Nieve on synths, keyboard and piano — two members of his founding band, the Attractions — and Davey Faragher on bass and vocals, the band’s vocal arranger, which, for this tour, is no trivial chore. This evening, Faragher had assistance. To execute many of the layered voice arrangements on “Bedroom,” Costello also enlisted two backup singers, Kitten Kuroi and Brianna Lee, who added much-needed heft and nuance — sometimes gospel-influenced — to many “Bedroom” tracks.
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The album was not performed in its entirety — “Boy With a Problem” was omitted; nor was it performed in the order it was recorded. Costello interspersed “Bedroom” tracks with many of his best-known songs, starting with “Accidents Will Happen,” a favorite from 1979’s “Armed Forces” album. From there, he entered the “Bedroom” waters, first “The Loved Ones,” then “And In Every Home.”
And so it went. He followed “Home” with the brash and impudent “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” from “This Year’s Model" (1978), then back to “Bedroom”: first “Tears Before Bedtime,” which featured the first of many splendid piano flourishes from the brilliant Nieve and “Shabby Doll,” which were sandwiched around a stormy, soulful rendition of “Moods For Moderns,” a standout track from “Armed Forces” (1979).
Behind the band, a large video screen, mounted on an ornate faux-gold frame beamed a variety of images, many of them crude and primitive paintings and drawings by Costello inspired by the cover of “Imperial Bedroom,” including a painting titled “Snake Charmer and the Reclining Octopus” by British artist Barney Bubbles, who was 41 when he died the year after “Bedroom” was released.
During “Watching the Detectives,” the screen delivered rapid-fire images of crime-movie posters and covers of pulp-crime novels. Before their chaotic rendition of that song, Costello explained it was about a woman who had a long-standing crush on actor David Soul of “Starsky & Hutch” fame and then confessed his crime-TV addiction for shows like that, “Colombo,” “Kojak” and most of all, “Murder She Wrote.”
Most of the “Bedroom” material was true enough to the recorded versions. Several tracks stood out, like “Kid About It”; “Almost Blue,” which prompted Costello to tip his hat to his wife, Diana Krall, who has covered the song (and who was touring in Burlington, Vt., on Friday night) and the album’s peak, if it has one, “Man Out of Time,” which aroused one of many sing-alongs.
Beyond the “Bedroom” material, the set list included plenty of highlights and surprises, like the spot-on rendition of “Green Shirt” and “Shot With His Own Gun.” Costello took liberties with several songs, recasting and rearranging them, none more dramatic than the darkened, low-key version of “Alison,” which he performed on guitar only, standing at a lone microphone flanked by Kuroi and Lee, who added deep-soul harmonies.
He finished with a run of favorites. After finishing his “Bedroom” duties with “Town Cryer,” the album’s final track, he led the band into a string of hits and favorites, starting with “Everyday I Write the Book,” in which Kuroi and Lee showed off their considerable vocal skills, then two rousing, high-speed classics: “Pump It Up” and then his usual closer, the rapturous “(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” which felt as pertinent and provocative as ever.
It was the perfect ending to a joyous birthday party, which was also a celebration of an illustrious career that, in July, will celebrate another milestone: the 40th anniversary of the release of "My Aim Is True." Early happy birthday, Elvis.
Accidents Will Happen; The Loved Ones; ... And In Every Home; (I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea; Tears Before Bedtime; Moods for Moderns; Shabby Doll; Human Hands; Green Shirt; Go Tell (Your Quiet Sister); Watching the Detectives; The Long Honeymoon; You Little Fool; Pidgin English; Alison; Shot With His Own Gun; Almost Blue; Kid About It; Uncomplicated; Beyond Belief; Man Out of Time; Town Cryer; Everyday I Write the Book; Pump It Up; (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.