Aside from their appearances together on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, Elvis Costello & the Roots made their proper live debut Monday night at New York City's Brooklyn Bowl, a venue that is exactly what it sounds like (part bowling alley, part music venue).
Playing material from their collaborative, old-school R&B-leaning album Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs, the iconic singer-songwriter and imposingly talented alt-hip hop band delivered a set of surprisingly fresh and vital songs. But as strange as it was to hear Costello's unmistakable voice in tandem with swampy funk grooves that bring to mind the Meters, the biggest surprises of the night were the awesomely unexpected covers they busted out.
Costello & the Roots skanked their way through the Specials' "Ghost Town"—which Costello introduced as "a song from an old pal of mine"—and brought the night to a thunderous climax by shredding John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band track "I Found Out." It was a truly sublime moment, and thanks to an adept smartphone camera operator, you can watch it here:
Surprise covers aside, the Roots & Costello proved to be a remarkably effective pairing once they found their groove. The first half of the set wasn't exactly shaky, but it didn't feel entirely fluid, either. That being said, guest vocalist La Marisoul of alt-Latin outfit La Santa Cecilia absolutely slayed the crowd when she came out to duet with Costello early in the night. She managed to rein in her powerhouse voice and make it an effective complement to his fragile, familiar croon on slower numbers like "Cinco Minutos Con Vos."
When Rootstello settled into a holding pattern, the last 40 minutes of the concert were an incendiary live experience. You forgot about the novelty element of a New Wave pioneer fronting a hip hop group and just gave yourself to the sick blues re-imagining of Costello's Blood & Chocolate classic "I Want You," a very funky "Watching the Detectives" and immediately arrested Wise Up Ghost songs like the title track and "Walk Us Uptown."
The Wise Up Ghost album cover has the words "Number One" in the lower right-hand corner. It might be a promise that more Rootstello material is to come, or just a nod to Blue Note Records' album cover format. But given how urgent they sounded during the last half of their first proper concert together, Costello would be wise to keep collaborating with the hardest working band in late night TV on future releases.