Elvis Costello and the Imposters Sony Centre, Toronto ON, July 20

Elvis Costello and the Imposters  Sony Centre, Toronto ON, July 20
Photo: Lindsay Duncan

"Masterpiece" is how Rolling Stone described Imperial Bedroom when it was first released in 1982. Yet, in the years since, critical consensus has favoured Elvis Costello's "Angry Young Man" phase of the late '70s over the genre-hopping pop classicist he became in the '80s. All of which is to say: Imperial Bedroom is an odd choice for the full album live treatment. But then, Costello was never one to be bound by convention. 
Case in point: He and the Imposters (original Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, along with Davey Faragher and a pair of backup singers) immediately abandoned the record's running order, opening with "The Loved Ones" and then, three songs in, momentarily ditching the album for "Accidents Will Happen" because, as Costello put it, a full night of "songs of misery and heartbreak" was just too much.
Nor would the band stick to the original arrangements they and producer Geoff Emerick famously slaved over for three months. Playing on a spartan stage with only some lights and original art for each song done in the style of the record's original cover projected overhead, "Tears Before Bedtime" was transformed into a creeping R&B number. Meanwhile, Costello and Nieve tackled "Almost Blue" on their own during an "encore" that hit double-digits. 
In between, Costello peppered in selections from across his career: familiar hits ("Watching the Detectives," in which the band found a new sense of dread and menace), select deep cuts ("Green Shirt") and even some cuts from his still-in-the-works musical A Face in the Crowd ("Blood and Hot Sauce").
Costello's inclination to sing off time from the phrasing presented on studio versions was a bit jarring, but his willingness to "break" songs and build something new out of them was particularly admirable, even if it sometimes took the crowd a minute to catch up. And no one could accuse the singer of phoning it in; he played for two-and-a-half hours, leaving the stage just once for a breather.
After exhausting Imperial Bedroom's selection of songs, the band brought the house down with more faithful renditions of "Everyday I Write the Book," "Pump it Up" and, finally. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding." With seemingly nowhere to go but down, it was the perfect ending to a show that proved complete album shows need not be predictable slogs.