Elvis Is Still the King

Elvis Costello at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, June 23, 2023. Photo by John Griswold



Wherever you start from, Hammond, Indiana, is far away.

Having spent the time to drive up the interstates, past the Chicago Transit Authority Repair Shop and the Norfolk Southern Railroad Calumet Yard, over the Calumet River, along the Chicago Skyway Toll Road, past the Hammond Port Authority and the Water Works, under the rusting tracks and past the piping petro-yards, you arrive at the Horseshoe Casino fatigued and demoralized, as if the tap to your hopes has been left open all day by mistake.

There is nothing left to do but to declare—as certain Chinese emperors were said to have done to end eras of misfortune—the start of a new era, that of Finally Getting to See the Beloved Entertainer You Have Known More Than Half a Lifetime from Recordings Only.

My companion had laughed when I asked what people wore to concerts these days and asked if I realized what the age of the crowd would be. I was startled. Elvis is still the king. Right? I mean, he is 68 now, but that is a lot younger than many other canonical rock stars. And while his collaborations with Burt Bacharach are not my own favorite, his persona as a former New Waver exuded intelligent outrage and wit that fits our time. Like that of my other favorite singer-songwriters, his poetry about love, beauty, and the thorns of relationships endure. Surely there would be as many young people as older fans.

We left the elevator from the parking garage and walked through the bells and flashing lights of the gaming area toward the auditorium. My companion, who noted the short-pour at the bar, the stale reek of smoke, and armed machines taking Friday pay from Saturday budgeters, was the youngest person at the concert by 20 years. The crowd looked, quite frankly, like the attendees at the police convention in Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing. We laughed and found our seats close to the stage. I considered the current roster of other performers at the casino—Jack Whitehall: Jackarse Tour; Jeff Dunham: Still Not Canceled; Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias: Back On Tour; Chris Distefano: Right Intention, Wrong Move—and felt indignant for Elvis. I also wondered if he had lost a few steps. After all, one reason I had decided to come was that he had beat an aggressive cancer five years ago.

The opening act was Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets. Lowe, whose biggest hits were “Cruel to Be Kind,” “So It Goes,” and (for Costello) “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding?” looked a bit now like the elder Bill Nighy and was more than adequate but very straightforward—played the old songs, cracked some jokes, was self-deprecating about opening for his friend.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters, on the other hand, who are halfway through 23 dates across the country, could not have been better, creating a wall of sound that again reminded me of how surprising it can be to see master musicians live after coming to love their recordings. Costello told stories filled with intellect and Britishisms, said coming into Hammond, which is on Lake Michigan, was like looking at Cap d’Antibes and a big concrete block, and sang and played guitar with savage grace. Like my other favorite artists and writers, he demonstrated the spirit and articulated the feelings that amount to defiance of loss, even mortality—that show a way forward by inhabiting process despite time and wounds. Even the songs of heartbreak or anger were embodied joy. The crowd went wild from the start.

Often our investments of time give no returns. Occasionally they are given back to us fully vested.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.