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Elvis Costello brings 'Imperial Bedroom' tour to Pittsburgh's Heinz Hall

| Wednesday, June 7, 2017, 9:45 a.m.
Elvis Costello breaks into a solo while playing 'Everyday I Write The Book' accompanied by his band The Imposters during their set opening for The Police Monday evening, July 28, 2008 at Post-Gazette Pavillion.
Elvis Costello breaks into a solo while playing 'Everyday I Write The Book' accompanied by his band The Imposters during their set opening for The Police Monday evening, July 28, 2008 at Post-Gazette Pavillion.

He's always been the other Elvis, the odd-looking British chap with the oversized glasses and a penchant for suitcoats and skinny ties.

Elvis Costello, who appears June 13 at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, is more than just an image. The show was rescheduled from Nov. 1, after Costello would not cross the Pittsburgh Symphony musicians picket lines.

As a songwriter and performer, he ranks as one of the most diverse artists of the last 50 years, collaborating with Paul McCartney, Allen Toussaint, Burt Bacharach and Anne Sofie van Otter. He's hosted his own talk show, “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with … ,“ in which he interviewed other musicians, and wrote “Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink,” (Blue Rider Press), an engaging if occasionally rambling autobiography that is as prolific (674 pages) as his musical catalog.

He's also a superb live performer with the Imposters, a band that features keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Bruce Thomas from his first group, the Attractions.

The Heinz Hall concert will be of special interest to Costello enthusiasts: He's spotlighting songs from the 1982 album, “Imperial Bedroom.” Robert Palmer of the New York Times wrote in 1982 that, “The album seems to be a conscious attempt to get away from rock entirely, to write pop songs worthy of a Sinatra or an Ella Fitzgerald — the sort of pop songs that become standards.

In a new release, Costello says, “You'll hear all the songs that fit the bill; hits and headlines, waifs and strays. In the words of the great (English comedian) Eric Morecambe, ‘I am playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.'”

Costello's appearances in Pittsburgh date back to a 1978 concert at the Leona Theater in Homestead, a formerly grand movie house that closed the same year. He would return in 1982 to the Stanley Theater (now the Benedum). He played twice at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center, opened for Bob Dylan in 2007 at the Petersen Events Center, Oakland, and opened in 2008 for the Police at the then-PG Pavilion in Burgettstown. His last appearance here was at the Trib Total Media Amphitheatre in 2011.

Costello rarely gives interviews, but what follows are a few stories from “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.”


The inspiration for Costello's infamous switch of songs from “Less Than Zero” to “Radio Radio” in 1977 on “Saturday Night Live” was Jimi Hendrix. In 1969, a young Costello had been watching “The Lulu Show,” a BBC program, when Hendrix did a strange version of “Hey Joe,” then started “The Sunshine of Your Love” as a dedication to Cream, which had recently disbanded. The BBC pulled Hendrix off the air, and Costello wrote, “It like watching your television go out of control.”

Eight years later, Costello got through two lines of “Less Than Zero” before saying, “I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but there's no reason to do this song here,” then launching into “Radio Radio.”

Bill Murray later told Costello that producer Lorne Michaels was behind the camera, “giving you the finger” and Costello was banned from SNL for 12 years. Costello wrote he eventually “made an uneasy peace” with Michaels, and for SNL's 25th anniversary in 1999 he reprised the incident, interrupting the Beastie Boys' “Sabotage” with “Radio Radio.”


After playing a 1982 gig at a Minneapolis festival, Costello got word that Bob Dylan wanted to see him. Costello thought it was a prank, but just as he was leaving Dylan appeared in a minivan, waving him aboard.

Dylan's first question: “So, is that ‘Watching the Detectives' a real show?” a reference to the song from Costello's album, “My Aim is True.”

Costello wrote that he couldn't recall his answer, but did have a chance later to query Dylan about how, “it was possible to remain invisible” and still observe people.

Costello wrote: “Our voices dropped lower and lower so as to remain out of earshot, and the words fell further and further apart and started to make no sense and the conversation ground to a halt without me receiving any reply that I can now recall.”


In 1989, Costello and Nick Lowe joined Johnny and June Carter Cash on stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” (Lowe was then married to Carlene Carter, June's daughter). When June told Costello to take the next verse, he said “I can't.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because you've already sung all the verses I know.”

She then told him to “make one up.”

So he did, singing, “I saw that coach a-hauling/And I knew just where it was bound/But I hate, I hate to see them/Put her in the cold, cold ground.”

Lyrics that have never, presumably, been sung again.

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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