Elvis Costello is legendary, for the depth of his catalog, the breadth of musical influences, and the flavors he channels. Starting off as a well-versed rocker marketed as an anger-management case study, he evolved into a highly experimental, genre-shifting savant. Though he lodged 16 top 40 hits in the UK between his debut in 1977 and the year 1986, he only reached the Top 40 one time during that period in the States.
It's with a self-deprecating awareness of his relative obscurity in the USA that Costello walks out on stage these days, appearing not as a punk rocker but as an elder statesman of pop music. Costello has seemed to switch between his alter egos The Imposter and Spike, the Beloved Entertainer, as he dabbled in country, R&B, jazz, and classical. In his maturation, he is beginning to dabble in the big band pops that his father was known for.
Costello's performances during his current tour are half symphony, half pops; the first part of the show is a reading of a suite from his symphonic release "Il Songo." The reading is performed by the local orchestra, and Costello only makes a brief appearance at the end to acknowledge his role in writing the music and to extend thanks to the musicians.
After an intermission is when the real fun began. The crowd's excitement grew as Costello selectively picked from his extensive catalog of material--a jazzy reworked version of "Watching the Detectives" was definitely one of the show's highlights, along with an energetic version of "Veronica" which featured only his acoustic guitar and the piano of longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve.
Costello picked a few from his collaboration with Burt Bacharach, including "God Give me Strength" and "I Still Have That Other Girl," both of which feature a vocal which is slightly challenging — and performed with inspiring effort. He made reference to his obscurity in the States as he introduced his recent UK Top 20 "She," which also fit well into the mellow lounge-singer vibe of the show.
There were a couple of treats for the fans. First, the leadoff single from his upcoming work with Allen Toussaint, "The River in Reverse," led off the second set. The crowd was appreciative and muffled comments were heard as a couple of meaningful lyrics referring to Hurricane Katrina touched chords with the audience. Later in the set, Alison segued into "Tracks of My Tears" for a resounding finish.
All in all, Costello puts on a fine pops show, guaranteed to be quite different from the summer tour with his Imposters, Allen Toussaint and the Toussaint Horns.