Ottawa, Canada
December 15
Greetings! I am a terminal music fan who will be writing about my life as a concertgoer from 1975 to the present. It’s about the music but also about the lives lived along with it. Many entries will feature a scan of the original ticket as well as a recollection of each gig as a whole experience rather than simply being a description of the performance. Therefore, this blog will be a mixture of memoir, concert review, music history, and philosophical musing. Concurrently, I will be writing about shows that I am seeing in the present. Thanks to Cublet for artwork assistance. **** I’m on Facebook ( mylifeinconcert) ... and have just launched a YouTube channel, VATV ( I also re/cross-post on my stand-alone blog ( Non-OS members who wish to comment can do so over at that site. *****

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AUGUST 2, 2011 8:31AM

My Life — In Concert! 161.Elvis Costello, 2011

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161. The Other Side of Summer: Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Confederation Park, Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Friday June 24, 2011, $40.

Ottawa Jazz Festival Bracelets 2011 

Elvis Costello Ottawa Jazz Festival 2011  

A relentless night-and-day-long downpour preceded the second evening of the 2011 Ottawa Jazz Festival starring Elvis Costello & the Imposters (Photo of the wristband passes by VA; the image is from the festival program booklet).  

When I last checked in with you, dear readers, I was leaving Robert Plant's opening night show of the 2011 Ottawa Jazz Festival in a downpour one that railed on during the night, continuing in blistering successions throughout the entirety of Friday. Lightning flashed across coal black skies as sheets of rain accumulated in Arc-appropriate units of relentless precipitation, accessorized by thunder and chaperoned by a wind forceful enough to sweep one right off course.

Hey kids, who wants to go see an outdoor rock concert?!

Cublet and I had pre-arranged to meet after work in advance of this gig.  If that arrangement hadn't been in place then I doubt we would have ended up seeing this show. We reckoned that since a plan had already been devised, wed give it a whirl, killing some time over a nice Thai meal … and just see what transpired, acting in the moment. As we sat savouring dinner and sipping our wine, we watched the grim spectacle of non-stop rain hemorrhaging from above, smacking down everything and everyone in the saturated streets of the Ottawa Market area.

Our prognosis for the show? Not a chance. We just couldnt see it going forward under these conditions.

We left the restaurant at 8pm, walking outside to discover that the celestial faucet had abruptly been turned off. At least for now. Darkness still hovered above us, sternly daring us to wander over to Confederation Park to see if the gig might still be a go.

Miraculously, it was.

And damn it, what a great concert it turned out to be! We appreciated each moment, brollys at the ready, knowing that things could all go pear-shaped in an instance, bracing ourselves for the next cavalcade of wetness that would trigger our exit. Incredibly, it never came, so we never left.

VariousArtists' pic of Elvis Costello on the Ottawa Jazz Festival Jumbotron, 2011 

Elvis Costello in Ottawa on the Jumbotron (Photo and effects by VA).

I was vested in seeing Costello for two reasons: (1) Its Elvis Costello!, and hes usually excellent, and (2) I inadvertently started a concert-going ritual in my life wherein I see him exactly once per decade. I have already written about a frenetic 1978 concert and a definitive headlining slot at the 1980 Heatwave festival, while I have yet to scribble about the 1991 (with The Replacements opening) and 2003 performances I took in. Now, here in 2011, I stood proud, keeping the tradition alive in a gnarly field that was an overflowing sponge of grassy mud, concerned about the potential demise of my favourite pair of Rockport sandals whilst pondering whether or not trench foot still exists in our time, but standing proud nevertheless. Awwwww .

Id seen Mr. C and the Imposters (read: the Attractions with bass player Davey Faragher in place of Bruce Thomas who fell out with Costello many moons ago) outdoors in this same area of town during Bluesfest in 2002 back when that festival was held in and around these parts.  That appearance took place under decidedly hotter, drier conditions. Tonight was decidedly the other side of summer.

The Other Side of Summer from MTV Unplugged, 1991.

While I enjoyed the set from that night, I was much more pumped up about seeing Elvis'n'crew this time around. I’ve been a fan since 1977 but admittedly have only liked bits and pieces of his post-1989 output. During that ‘77-‘89 time frame, Elvis was a constant visitor to my turntable/walkman/CD player, being one of my favourite artists from that period, his rich body of work always prime for enjoyment and re-examination.

Following his Warner Bros. debut at the end of the ‘80s with the all-star Spike, I went through a spell when I put him on decidedly less. I wrote in my piece on Bob Seger about going in and out of phases with artists and genres, and Costello certainly fell off my musical map to some degree after that time. That is, until I started writing this series. In doing so, I have revisited a lot of music that I hadn't heard in many years, and while researching and typing up my pieces on those two Costello appearances from ‘78 and ‘80, I fell completely back in love with his catalogue from his golden years, going out and buying a bunch of CD titles I had only owned in other formats. I’ve listened to more Elvis Costello during the past year than I have in the previous twenty.

Elvis Costello LPs and CDs 1977 to 1989 

Elvis Costello’s golden period, 1977-1989. I filled in a bunch of CD gaps over this past year while writing about EC for the My Life — In Concert! series, particularly re-obsessing over 1980’s Get Happy!! I'd forgotten I even had that Spike promotional double LP. (Photo by VA)

Arriving about 10 minutes before showtime, Cublet and I hung out, listening to some superbly-selected vintage ‘60s reaggae with what was an unsurprisingly much smaller crowd than the previous nights sell out for Plant. No one could have predicted that the rain might suddenly end and so you cant blame people for staying home. I am betting that the show probably sold well and that many would-be punters angrily sat on their tickets that night.

And, bless his cotton socks, there the bugger was, right on time with the Imposters at 8:30 sharp. EC and the band ripped into the proceedings 1978-era style with Pump It Up followed by Nick Lowes Heart of the City seguing into Mystery Dance and then Everyday I Write the Book, complete with Curtis Mayfield-style chicken scratch guitar. Cor blimey, they were punchy.

I somehow wasnt quite expecting that they'd come out swinging the way they did, but was glad that's what I got it.

A be-suited and hatted Costello stopped for the first time of the night following that rapid-fire foursome of tunes, comically noting, lovely weather were having. Although Ive been living the last six years in B.C., so this is a sunny day to me, before adding that well just play until the rain and thunder comes. Remarkably, it never did.

He last blew through these parts a few years back, getting to play for 36 seconds opening for The Police,” this time returning to headliner status and promoting his 2010 release National Ransom. As with its predecessor, it reunites him with producer T-Bone Burnett (and also features Buddy Miller who had been on this very stage the night before with Plant). Burnett also produced one of Elviss high-water marks from the 1980s, the roots-based King of America from 1986: his first album containing songs credited to his real name, Declan MacManus. That album’s release was accompanied by the touring Costello Show, an ironic performance concept complete with go-go dancers and a spinning wheel of songs that made each night's set unique and unpredictable. Costello took the idea out of mothballs, resurrecting it for his current tour but, sadly, was not part of the set he played here in Ottawa.

Mind you, I guess I should employ that sadly sparingly as his two hour performance was largely exceptional, drawing from almost every stage of his career, careening through a variety of styles and moods.

This being the Ottawa Jazz Festival, he took a number of jazzy turns in the mid-part of the set, notably with Brutal Youths Clown Strike and his own standard, Almost Blue. His vocals during this number were a little shaky, taking on a patina somewhat closer to Chet Bakers fractured, haunting delivery than his own. In fact, there were times his voice was occasionally off during the earlier part of the show but that seemed to vanish as the set rolled along, with many of his strongest vocals appearing in the sets second half.

Declans rootsier tendencies also received an airing via a rollicking, funky blues performance of his Allen Toussaint collaboration, The River in Reverse twinned with a cover of The Band’s/Dylans This Wheels On Fire, along with Ransoms Stations of the Cross and the solo encore selections of Jimmy Standing In the Rain and A Slow Drag with Josephine. He was in particularly fine voice during these numbers, his sans groupe alter-ego's appearance on the stage preceded by his explaining that Elvis is backstage putting on his spandex and lipstick before launching into numbers that were rock & roll as I imagined in 1836.

“Rock & roll as I imagined in 1836”: National Ransom’s A Slow Drag With Josephine in L.A. in May.

Throughout the night, Costello delighted hard-core fans with all manner of obscure goodies such as Blood & Chocolates Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind? and three count em three songs from Trust (Strict Time, Clubland, and a big personal fave, New Lace Sleeves). Another VA darling, Imperial Bedrooms opening number Beyond Belief, was a surprise crowd favourite, earning copious Hurrahs from the assembled true believers (who else would venture out on such a night?!), ending with an unexpected, Sonic Youth-esque grindy tangent, charging smack into the aforementioned Clubland replete with shards of Thurston Moore/J. Mascis-esque guitar tones.

Declan and the boys ended the initial set of five encore numbers with a trio of some of his best-known early songs, (I Dont Want to Go to) Chelsea, Watching the Detectives, and Alison, returning one last time for another six tunes under deeply merciful skies and wearing a gold lamé jacket. “Elvis” indeed.

The crowd had noticeably swelled over the course of the evening as the rain seemed to hold back, with the tenacious rewarded with some of the most impassioned performances of the evening. One of the disappointments for me is that he had played nothing from 1980s Get Happy!!, an album I have especially re-obsessed over during the past year.  Ergo, I was chuffed and then some as he delved into a slow, bluesy start to that LPs cover of I Cant Stand Up for Falling Down that blasted into high gear mid-way through before charging right into High Fidelity. I was stoked!

I got the impression that EC was invested in really giving those who had made the effort to come out their money’s worth.  He crammed in as many songs as he could, soldiering on with a surprise cover of the Rolling Stones Out of Time. I cheered when I heard him spit out You dont know whats going on …” All that was left was a stomp through the night's second Nick Lowe composition, (Whats So Funny Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding, incorporating lyrics from The Whos The Kids Are Alright” ... and away he went.

One Month Earlier in L.A.: Blood & Chocolates Next Time Round — one he didn’t do in Ottawa — followed by his cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time,” the penultimate number of his Ottawa set.

While Costello is rarely off form, I would have to rate this as the best set I‘d seen him play since 1980. It goes without saying that I feel pretty damn lucky that we decided to stick it out and stay around. In other happy news, the sandals survived and trench foot was kept at bay.

So, does this mean I can’t see him for another nine years? If I do so again within the decade, will that unequivocally shift the equilibrium of the cosmos? I’ll deal with that existential dilemma if and when I have to.

As for the weather, while I was more than pleased that the rain was a no-show, it still appeared as if that could change at any moment. Indeed, it started pissing down again shortly thereafter. How would this affect the next nights set by k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang? You’ll have to come back and find out.

Ottawa Jazz Festival Schedule 2011   

Robert and Elvis, down; k.d. and Pink Martini to go (from the 2011 Ottawa Jazz Festival program).

Next On Stage à 162. Sugar Buzz: k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang with the Belle Brigade, Confederation Park, Ottawa Jazz Festival, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Saturday June 25, 2011.

© 2011 VariousArtists

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Did you ask God to stop that rain or did Elvis?
Thats rock n roll.

Cool review! I saw him this winter, inside, the Orpheum in Boston. How'd you like "Alison" done all country like with a steel guitar? A tune not in your set list but etched in my visual hard drive was "Delivery Man". When the line about looking like Jesus in a certain light came around, the stage went dark except for a blue light on Elvis. Sounds a little hokey, but no no no no it was not!
OMG this is an excellent concert. How good does it get? Just go there and see for yourself EC rocks and then some. Have a great end of summer with this one bro!.
VA ~ another wonderful concert story from Ottawa! That was great to read that the rain stopped because rain and live concerts do not mix well! Ever since a friend in art school said I looked like Elvis Costello (mostly because our glasses looked the same) I have had a special fondness for him and his great music!
Various: Geez, now my turn to apologize for not checking my in-box sooner. The Jazz fest outshines the Bluefest. Well, "Pump It Up" ...
I'll be back with a more detailed comment. Gotta run to work.
See ya ....
Linda: Which Elvis? ;-)

greenheron: He did "Alison" a little more straightforward this time although I've seen him do twangier versions before. And the lighting doesn't sound hokey at all, just effective. Thanks for stopping by!

Algis: How good does it get? This one was pretty great but there's a total knock-out I'll be writing about soon. End of summer already?! I can't go there yet, I need to employ a semantic difference and say "mid-summer" ... so have a great Mid-Summer Night's Dream, Algis.

designanator: No, rain and live concerts do not mix, and I'll soon be writing about a Bluesfest evening that was very frustratingly rained out. So ... do you still have the glasses?

Scarlett: Absolutely, the Jazz Fest line-up outshone Bluesfest this year. Having said that, the few nights that I did go out for Bluesfest, I had a great time.
VA: I've seen Elvis twice and both shows were great. I'm glad the heavens cooperated and you can put another notch in your Elvis belt. It's nice when an artist includes all your favorites in a show, but I guess if we got everything we wanted we'd have 5 hour shows...not that I'd be complaining about that! ;)
Somebody must have resurrected the Woodstock rain chant. And got the bugs out of it too. Sounds like a great concert. I really liked his early stuff but haven't paid attention for 20 years or so. The little I've heard doesn't sound too bad; just not enough to get me worked up. And thanks for the Out of Time clip Various. haven't heard that in ages.
Great review. I've been in a similar place about Costello. I had stopped listening earlier then you, after the 4th album. But the last year or two I've been going back and listening to what came after that, and it's a lot of great stuff. Glad the rain stopped for you!
Lschmoopie: I hear you about the 5 hour shows. We can’t have it all. That’s one of the advantages to seeing someone multiple times. With this show, though, he really pulled out a lot of personal favourites I wasn’’t expecting.

Abra: That’s how I’ve felt about much of his stuff from the last two decades, although there have been some real gems in there as well.

Yserba: We were pretty damn glad the rain stopped too, which was freakishly good timing. As for playing his back catalogue, I’ve had a serious re-appreciation during this past year.
Wow, VA, you really pump it up here! Great reportage, great metaphors, and you make me want to go play EC all day tomorrow. "Beyond Belief" just popped up on my tape mix I was listening to while I cleaned my garage last weekend, and I had forgotten how much I loved it. Once a decade isn't enough. Trust me :)
dirndl: You heard "Beyond Belief" last weekend! I love those kinds of coincidences/synchronicities in life. I hope you had your EC day!

He really pulled out some interesting choices with this show. Glad you enjoyed and, I agree, once a decade isn't enough. Oh well, these are tough times ... I'll have to make do ...
More convergence from you, VA! As a late concert-going bloomer, my second ever concert was Elvis Costello at Lake Compounce, CT. It was '89 and it was the Spike Tour (incidentally we saw it the very day we received the tragic news of a friend's suicide).

Gonna have to dust off Spike now and get that chewing gum out of my ears!

Still no better chronicler of the concertgoing experience than you, VA!
Chiller: How awful re: the suicide. Did you know before or after? I don't think I could have gone ahead if I had known that.

Otherwise, what a great second concert. Spike was the last album that he did that I really loved all the way through although that is one I haven't replayed (yet) in my Costellomania of the last year. I must do so. Thanks for such a nice comment, Chiller.
What excellent luck you've had! I saw Elvis once in NYC...we walked past the theatre, saw the marquee and bought our tickets 10 minutes before show time. It was the early 90's and he was playing a lot of newer stuff at first. When he played Alison that place about came apart, it was wonderful. So glad you got to see him in that fresh clean air, punchy and playful. Great review as usual, VA ~
catch-22: That's a hoot that you saw him on a whim, buying the tickets right before performance. He's a pretty consistent live presence, I've found.

I'm glad I got to see him in *dry,* fresh, clean air. Actually, I just now realized that the only time I have seen him indoors was that first concert in 1978 -- all four other shows were outdoor events. Thanks for stopping by!