The last time Elvis Costello played Charlotte was 2012, in the revival of his Spectacular Spinning Songbook Tour, in which audience members determined much of the setlist by chance, spinning a giant roulette wheel of 150 Costello songs.
It was fun, irreverent and, according to Costello, “the exact opposite” of his current Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers Tour, which brings him and his band, the Imposters, to Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheater Wednesday.
The original album was highly arranged, to the point where half of it was unplayable live. Now we’ve learned how to do it.
Elvis Costello, about “Imperial Bedroom”
“This is the opposite because the original album was highly arranged, to the point where half of it was unplayable live,” he says on the phone from Vancouver. “Now we’ve learned how to do it. We’re all different people now. We’ve got the experience to respect what we originally have and not try to turn everything into a garage band song, where everything you worked out to be quite delicate gets kind of brutalized.”
The 1982 album “Imperial Bedroom” isn’t the typical kind of record an artist builds a tour around. It wasn’t a commercial hit, although it ranked well with critics. It didn’t feature any of his big singles and was a bit of an about-face, with Costello writing on piano instead of guitar. Its arrangements were more lush than previous work. He spent 12 weeks experimenting in the studio with Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick.
“I couldn’t have done this record in 1977,” he says. “I went into the process of recording – so much so, some of the time I got lost.”
But technology and time caught up with “Imperial Bedroom.” Costello’s band now features an additional singer and bassist Davey Faragher on vocals as well. Keyboardist Steve Nieve can also draw on a world of synthesized instruments.
“Instead of trying to get a sound, you can get any sound at the flick of a switch,” Costello says.
The show isn’t a recap of the album in its entirety, either. The “Other Chambers” are songs from the same era that share some themes.
“I thought it was a great starting place – that we could get down the corridor from this record into some other mischief,” says Costello, who often does more than 30 songs a night. “Audiences who are coming may remember when it came out, but they aren’t coming because it’s nostalgic. The songs are ones they’re invested in in some way.”
And they’re not necessarily upbeat.
“I was already into the tragic romantic state,” he says. “It was a tough sell to play this stuff then. Now it’s got a little different feeling to it. ‘Imperial Bedroom’ has a very thick mood. You don’t want to stay there too long or it gets airless. We know at a certain point in the evening, there’s usually a time to tell more tales.”
Those may include favorites “Alison,” “Watching the Detectives” or “Pump It Up” and songs Costello wrote for an upcoming stage musical, “A Face in the Crowd.” He doesn’t have plans to record another studio album any time soon.
“I don’t have a (recording) contract,” he says, with a hint of satisfaction.
Asked what he currently listens to, he praises Chris Thile, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer’s “Bach Trios” album.
“I like something like that. They had a joyful time playing this music. You’ve got to enjoy playing,” he says. “That’s what I’ve learned from getting off the train. I get the joy of coming home.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheater, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.