“It’s a big risk, doing the Costello thing, but I feel very positive about it.” Guitarist Ariel Levine (who frequently plays with Josh Damigo), of Ocean Beach by way of New York City, fronts an Elvis Costello tribute band called The Distractions: A Tribute to the Other Elvis. “Besides school concerts, my first time playing and singing an original song to an audience was when I was 12. It was with my band Turnicate. We played mostly Nirvana and Weezer covers, but had about 3 originals. We sounded pretty much like three 12 year olds. I was so nervous I don't have any recollection of how the audience reacted. I also have no memory of the night, I must have blocked it out of my head. The only memory I have of it is from watching the camcorder playback. My bass player walked off the stage in the middle of the song because he forgot how to play it.”
The band also includes Bill Horvath on bass, Josh Weinstein on keys, and a drummer who simply goes by the name of Rex, with Levine handling the role of Costello. Their debut show was in 2012 at an open house gig at Music Zirconia studios near Kearny Mesa.
Which era Elvis does Levine pay tribute to? “All of them,” he says. “The entire Elvis era, from start to finish...if someone’s gonna go to see our show, they’re obviously a fan and they’re gonna know every song. You have to at least play all his hits, from 1977 to 1982.”
Levine’s done Elvis Costello tributes before he says, back when he was still living in New York and playing with his band Kindergarten. "We did two tribute shows at Joe’s Pub. There were burlesque dancers there too, doing their burlesque thing along to Elvis songs.”
When Levine moved to San Diego in 2011, he found work first as a hired guitar in Maren Parusel’s band, then later as Malcolm Young in an AC/DC tribute group. But can he pull off the Elvis Costello look?
“I throw on the glasses and the suit. I’ve studied his moves. It’s all about muscle memory, I think. My voice doesn’t sound like his naturally. There’s three or four steps that are in his voice that I try to remember. He’s also very percussive. I do that naturally. He has a smoky tone that I have to strain to get. And, he’s got some weird pronunciations.”
Is there any acting involved in the tribute thing? “Yeah, I kind of get into character when I do him. Sometimes I break character, and I have to remind myself that I’m playing someone else. I dunno,” says Levine.
“I did Angus in an AC/DC tribute in New York, and I don’t look a thing like him,” says Levine. “But, I acted like him.”