The Delivery Man delivers rootsy versions of his Eighties classics
"I am the magnificent!" boomed the introduction to Dave and Ansel Collins' reggae classic "Double Barrel" as Elvis Costello took the stage at the Roseland Theater, in Portland, Oregon, on a warm Friday night. Dressed in a black suit and blue-and-purple tie, the impeccable Costello never broke a sweat in the course of his two-hour, no-encore set. Neither did the imposters - keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas from the Attractions, and efficient backup singer/bassist Davey Farragher - despite the sheer amount of effort each man was putting out. Not only did the band nail the sudden upshift from "When I Was Cruel No. 2" into "Watching the Detectives," it remodeled both. Nieve avoided the organ for most of the latter, relying on an echoed piano until the coda, and the group transformed "Cruel" from the sample-hooked downtempo of the record into a dread-laden slow rocker that could have been on Blood and Chocolate.
That 1986 album had the second-largest presence (four songs) in Costello's
thirty-one-song set, after the disc he's touring behind, last fall's well-received
The Delivery Man (nine). On his latest, Costelio dirtied up earlier roots
moves like 1981's country-covers album, Almost Blue, and 1986's King of
America. Both were present this night: "Sweet Dreams" and "Tonight
the Bottle Let Me Down," from Blue; "Poisoned Rose," from
America. And both fit, because what the singer went for, and achieved, was
the dancing-roadhouse vibe of The Delivery Man, with his full catalog as
ammo. Given the movement on Roseland's standing-room downstairs (the balcony
is seated), Costello got as good as he gave.
Even considering how great the songs and the playing were, Costello's singing was the most impressive thing about the evening. He reached the high notes at the end of "Party Girl," from 1979's Armed Forces, with a throaty swagger; "Poisoned Rose" was as resplendent as James Brown's cape and as booze-stained as Roseland's sticky floor. These days, Costello prefers to sneak up on "Clubland," from 1981's Trust, rather than pounce on it, and he essayed "Needle Time," from The Delivery Man, like the blues singers he's long admired. Amazingly, he has lost almost nothing from his voice; like his physical presence and his catalog, it has thickened and settled nicely with age.
Mia Nicholson, 39, Portland, OR
"It was fun hearing songs I used to dance to when I was twenty-one."
Paul Buchanan, 40, Portland
"Excellent. I've seen him eight times. He was in his rockin' mode."
Anderson, 28, Portland
"He was very infectious. 'Monkey to Man' cracked me up."
Pamela Fedderson, 57, Portland
"It was as good as the best concerts of the 1960s."
Elvis in the Building
See more exclusive live photos at rollingstone.com/elviscostello