Elvis Costello and the Imposters at Canalside (2011)

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Music aficionados of all ages stormed Buffalo’s Erie Canal Harbor last night for an entrancing set from Elvis Costello and the Imposters and were serenaded by some of the most catchy yet lyrically reflective pieces the consummate troubadour has ever put out.

From the opening note of “I Hope You’re Happy Now” from 1984’s “Goodbye Cruel World” album, he and his stellar band appeared ready for action, and the appreciative crowd was eager to follow them to the “Heart of the City” or wherever else they wanted to go.

What I’ve always admired about Costello is his desire to tackle every style with no reservations because, in a sense, he’s a musical shape-shifter who happens to possess the intellectual dexterity needed to pull off such an imposing feat.  Songs such as “Radio Radio,” “Mystery Dance,” “Turpentine,” and the beautifully timeless “Every Day I Write the Book” demonstrated that range while providing some much needed luminosity to what was an otherwise overcast evening. His sleek Fender Telecaster was put through the wringer during a meaty solo for “Stella Hurt,” but, for my money, the show’s peak was reached by a desolate take on “Alison” that showcased his deftness for taking a sad song and making it better. I’m aware that some people simply don’t “get” what’s so great about Elvis, but this moment was just pure musical bliss.

Even if Elvis and his band of merry imposters had been the only act on the bill, the show would’ve been something special, but the fact that Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers took the stage put it over the top.

If ever there were a singer for whom the phrase “wail like a banshee” was coined, Shilpa Ray is that singer. Her antagonistic vocal attack is peppered with the kind of sultry conviction and Jim Morrison-esque moxie that leads me to believe she might be the most stirring female vocalist working today. Every moment is predicated on a degree of unpredictability that mainstream music left behind a long time ago, so seeing the facial expressions of audience members upon hearing such an abrasive sound was priceless indeed.

Performing material from their new album “Teenage and Torture,” Shilpa and her ridiculously tight band tore through 50 minutes of underground garage rock featuring song titles such as “Hookers” and “Erotolepsy.” While the harmonium may come off as an anachronism to some, Shilpa plays it with authority and makes a lot of Top-40 artists look ordinary in the process.

The other opening group was Buffalo’s own Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers, who took the stage to a less-than-full harbor yet still performed a killer, well-received set that served as a sign of things to come.

If the upcoming harbor shows exhibit even a sliver of this evening’s intensity, it’s going to be a Western New York summer for the ages.

 

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