Costello's Modern Moods

by Alan Sculley, Leah Sottile and Mike Corrigan

To say that 2004 was a banner year for veteran English rocker Elvis Costello would be no understatement.Fresh off of touring behind his stirring 2002 rock album, When I Was Cruel, Costello released two very different and acclaimed albums last September: the rocking The Delivery Man and a classical work, Il Sogno. He then capped the year with three Grammy nominations, including one for best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for the song "Monkey to Man" and one for best Rock Album for The Delivery Man.

Yet when the winners were announced this past February at the Grammy Awards, he was nowhere to be seen.

Costello, who was up against U2 in the song category and Green Day's American Idiot for the best album honors, thought there was no point in attending the Grammys. He didn't think he had a chance.

During a March interview at this year's South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, Costello admitted, "From where I was standing, I was happier to be in a club with the Killers or the Gorillaz or whoever they are and [skip] the madness for noble reasons, while the monolith that is U2 crushed us under their jackboot."

That sort of practicality, laced with self-deprecating humor and a good deal of genuine humility, was frequently on display as Costello was quizzed at SxSW for over an hour by Bill Flanagan, a veteran music journalist and senior vice president at MTV.

During the interview, Costello -- perhaps the most talented and influential punk/new wave artist of the late 1970s -- remarked that he no longer harbors any great hopes of having hit records. Instead, he said he's pleased that a core audience buys his records and enables him to tour as a headliner worldwide playing the kinds of shows he wishes, rather than being relegated to some nostalgia circuit trotting out a few hits as part of some package tour. Costello and his current band, the Imposters, are on their way to Spokane for a highly anticipated performance Saturday night at the Big Easy.

Costello said he still revels in the art of live performance, something his plans to play 200 shows this year would seem to prove. That enjoyment of the concert stage was also evident during his headlining set that evening at Austin' La Zona Rosa.

With the Imposters backing him, Costello rollicked through a two-hour-and-15-minute set that featured most of the songs from The Delivery Man, a number of fan favorites ("Mystery Dance," "Radio Radio," "Pump It Up"), as well as a few songs that haven't been a part of his live set in years, including "Blame It on Cain" from his debut album, My Aim Is True and a fevered take on "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used To Do)?" from his country album, Almost Blue.

This sort of stirring performance is nothing new to fans who have seen Costello perform -- either with his original backing band, the Attractions, or with the Imposters, which he formed during the making of When I Was Cruel.

The two backing bands share a pair of musicians -- keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Bruce Thomas. The missing Attraction is bassist Bruce Thomas (with whom Costello had a strained professional relationship). Davey Faragher (formerly of Cracker) handles those duties for the Imposters.

Costello discussed his two backing bands, explaining why despite the common members, he considers each a very different unit.

"I really do want to say straight out I understand people being sentimental about the Attractions," Costello said. "The Attractions, I think, were far and away musically the best group of '77 by a country mile.

"I'm not saying we made the best records by any stretch of the imagination. There were some great records made quite often by people who couldn't play at all. But that group was very, very good."

Costello also took time to discuss The Delivery Man, an excellent recording that finds him drawing as much on country and blues influences as on pop and rock. According to Costello, he began work on the album in 1999 only to shelve the project for five years.

"I had the idea of the story," he said. "I had the initial songs, which were ballads, and I was getting ready to make the record when one of these corporate somersaults [his word for a shake-up] occurred and it became obvious that making a record for what then was Mercury [Records] would have been idiotic."

By the time Costello returned to The Delivery Man, he no longer wanted to make an album full of ballads (hence the presence of such rowdy tunes as "Button My Lip," "There's A Story in Your Voice" and "Monkey To Man"). Costello had also decided how to use his story line.

"Most of the narrative detail is in the 'Delivery Man' song," he said. "And the other songs that are attached to the characters are from their perspective. So you have to use your imagination, really. I didn't feel [like] making a beginning-middle-and-end story. Then it becomes an opera. It isn't an opera. It isn't a concept record either. It's a series of songs connected by the narrative."

Rap On, Portland -- Forget Atlanta, St. Louis, L.A., the San Francisco Bay and all five boroughs. There are times when outsiders - those who are detached from the mainstream, the trends and the fame - do it best. And in the case of hip-hop, the lily-white streets of Portland, Ore., are the last place you'd expect to uncover the next big things - the heirs to the throne of Jurassic 5, De la Soul and the Roots.

But it was there, somewhere between Fremont and Alberta streets, in the city of hiking, biking, microbrews and Birkenstocks-with-socks, that the three members of the Lifesavas were just making music based on what they knew. In their northeast Portland world, they remained nearly untouched by the alt-and indie-rock scene that dominated the city's downtown clubs and record stores. Marlon Irving (aka Vursatyl) and Solomon David (aka Jumbo the Garbageman) were raised on a steady diet of local hip-hop: Freak Control, M.C. T, Pleasure and the Untouchable Crew.

"There was a long history of hip-hop and soul music in the Northwest, but in Portland, specifically," Vursatyl says. "We're just kind of children of that era and that movement."

"We kind of grew up with our older siblings listening to those records around the house. We were oblivious to the fact that the Northwest was a rock scene," he says.

While hip-hop has long been a part of the PDX scene, it's a genre that has always been overshadowed by the ever-burgeoning indie scene and the successes of local rock bands that have gotten signed.

"There were so many groups that came and went that were really dope because they didn't have the information and the exposure," Vursatyl says of come-and-gone hip-hop acts.

So when Vursatyl repeatedly came across Jumbo, theirs was already a passage from a hip-hop storybook. Vursatyl rhymed with his friends in city parks. Jumbo was a deejay. Both were devoted to their music. They got together, uncovered Jumbo's incredible mic skills and started making music - just like every other garage band across the Rose City.

"Portland is a microcosm in terms of the world in its view of hip-hop," Vursatyl says of keeping a small scene alive in a rock town like Portland. "I remember seeing Run DMC and there was this huge security and everyone was wondering whether there was going to be violence. That's everyone's big concern."

Despite a constant battle for attention with rockers, the duo was soon recognized in the small but hefty hip-hop scene, often called upon at the last minute to be an opening act at local shows. They were always available, and always made the show - they were life savers, hence the name. They recruited a deejay (Rev. Shines) and a local following, with national fame edging closer with every show.

Little did they know they would get picked up by the best, the cr & egrave;me de la cr & egrave;me of hip hop -- Blackalicious and the execs at Quannum Records.

Let me put it this way: If hip-hop were the Catholic Church, then Quannum would be the Vatican. It's a label owned by Blackalicious, Latyrx, and the pope of hip-hop himself, DJ Shadow.

While digging for vinyl during a visit to Portland, Blackalicious' Chief Xcel couldn't help but notice the Lifesavas sharp, soulful style. After Vursatyl tagged along with Blackalicious on tour as a backup vocalist, the Lifesavas were signed - officially putting Portland on the hip-hop map.

Vursatyl says that it has been a slow-going process to get the Northwest scene to where it is - and the Lifesavas are thrilled to be getting quality hip-hop on the radio, in the clubs and even over to cities like Spokane.

"We're happy about that. That's a dream come true that Portland -- that Seattle -- would finally get represented," he says. "Every other corner of the States has had its movement - and here, it's our ultimate goal." -- Leah Sottile

The Lifesavas perform with Brainchild at the B-Side on Saturday, April 9, at 9 pm. Tickets: $10. Call 624-7638.

The Feel of British Steel -- Rock isn't pretty. At least, it shouldn't have to be. And before MTV changed the rules, it wasn't. Oh sure, since its very beginning, rock 'n' roll has boasted its fair share of handsome performers. But supermodel good looks in rock only really came into play -- only became truly bankable -- with the advent of music television, when record-buyers started watching as much as listening to their favorite acts. Before that time, it was the dirty, harsh and dangerous that ruled rock -- and all the pretty boys and girls were banished to Bandstand.

When Motorhead first appeared in the UK around 1976, it didn't look pretty, it didn't sound pretty, and it represented nothing so much as a well-deserved kick in the head to so-called "heavy music," which had become as toothless and flaccid as the rest of rock 'n' roll. It was time to clean house, and these guys were carrying a big-ass broom. Motorhead's rise coincided with the punk revolution, a concurrence that -- along with the fact that the band played it fast and wore leather jackets -- caused many to lump in the group with the likes of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. But while Motorhead certainly seemed to share the punks' desire to reinvigorate the genre, this particular group of axe-wielding hellions -- led by lead vocalist/bassist Lemmy Kilmister -- was clearly focused on inventing its own, equally revolutionary, brand of slash-and-burn hard rock, one that would leave an indelible mark on both metal and punk.

Ladies and gentleman, the incomparable Motorhead will be storming into town this Tuesday night, headlining a show at the Big Easy that will also include Corrosion of Conformity and Seattle's Zeke.

Motorhead's metallic song catalog serves as a declaration of war against any power that seeks to dilute rock's primal essence. Classics like "Ace of Spades" and "Killed by Death" are as unrelenting and thrilling as anything in hardcore, characterized by brisk rhythms, brief, piercing guitar leads and Lemmy's strangulated, growling vocal delivery. Live, the band strikes an intimidating pose, with Lemmy (the only member to appear in each of the many lineups over the years) securing his trademark stance under his vocal mike, up into which he then proceeds to snarl, adding to the baked, over-amplified din of guitar strings and drum skins.

And that's a beautiful thing, indeed. -- Mike Corrigan

Motorhead, Corrosion of Conformity and Zeke at the Big Easy on Tuesday, April 12, at 7:30 pm. Tickets: $25. Call 325-SEAT.

Publication date: 04/07/05

Spokane Guitar Collective @ Lucky You Lounge

Thu., Oct. 6, 7 p.m.
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