Review: Elvis Costello pumps it up in Mohegan Sun concert

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Last July, Elvis Costello canceled the rest of his tour after he was diagnosed with cancer.

This year, Costello has returned to the road, and, man, does he seem jazzed to be back. He ripped it up at his show Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena, where he co-headlined with Blondie.

Costello was like a locomotive of rock, powering through classic song after song. He slowed things down a couple of times, for Burt Bacharach’s “The Look of Love” and for a lovely version of “Alison” (working a bit of “The Tracks of My Tears’ into the latter), but otherwise, this was a fiery rave. Costello, dressed in a black suit and eventually doffing his jacket, chatted briefly between a few songs. Most of the time, though, he barreled from one into the next number, refusing the show’s energy lag.

And, no, the 64-year-old Costello never mentioned his 2018 cancer diagnosis. At the time, he said that it was “a small but very aggressive cancerous malignancy.” He never specified the type of cancer. Late last year, he downplayed the seriousness of it in a “CBS This Morning” interview. He said, “I was receiving letters for three weeks. No, I am not dying! It’s not to make a joke of it, because you don’t have to walk very far to find somebody you love who’s genuinely having a fight (with cancer).”

Costello’s voice was robust on Sunday, and his guitar playing was virtuosic.

His band The Imposters (drummer Pete Thomas, keyboard player Steve Nieve, and bassist Davey Faragher), attacked the songs just as aggressively as their leader did. Backup singers Brianna Lee and Kitten Kuroi not only never stopped moving, dancing through the night, but they also provided killer vocals.

Costello & the Imposters closed out the night with an hour-and-a-half set. Blondie took to the stage first and likewise played for an hour and a half.

They opened with “Call Me” and wrapped up with “Dreaming” and, in between, broke out all their hits. They also offered some surprises, including a version of “Old Town Road,” which Harry did oh-so-well. After Harry mentioned the sweltering temperatures of the weekend, she and the band segued into “Wipe Off My Sweat” — very funny.

As for Harry’s voice, it sounded a bit weathered Sunday. (Age, of course, comes with its concessions — Harry is 74 — and no one’s voice stays as dynamic as it was decades earlier.) Harry’s vocals seemed more on-point as Blondie’s set went on, perhaps the result of her becoming more warmed up or of later songs being in a more comfortable range.

Whatever the case, Harry still commands the stage like a cool rock star. She wore chic sunglasses for the first part of the concert, and her silvery, voluminously multilayered outfit was perfect for a singer on stage, reflecting the light beautifully. She shimmied and danced and waved to fans. She got lots of love; some fans made catcalls, and others bellowed, “We love you, Debbie!”

The band sounded muscular throughout the night. Tommy Kessler, a relative youngster who joined Blondie in 2010, handled the heavy guitar work (even playing the instrument behind his head at one point). Blondie co-founder Chris Stein, 69, played guitar, too, as he sat on a stool for most of the concert before standing to perform with Kessler briefly during “Heart of Glass.”

And the secret weapon of Blondie? Clem Burke, who has been a member of the group since shortly after it formed. Wearing a CBGB shirt, he pounded out propulsive rhythms that really drove the tunes all night.

k.dorsey@theday.com

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