Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint's collaboration, The River In Reverse, was born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which drove the New Orleans music legend from his hometown.
Friday night at Blossom, shortly before the nearly three-hour concert featuring Costello, his band, the Imposters, Toussaint and The Crescent City Horns, Mother Nature seemed to remind stalwart concertgoers of the project's impetus with frequent lightning, thunder and torrential rain.
The pavilion-only show was sparsely populated, which allowed the sound to bounce off the empty seats, muddying the mix a bit.
The folks who were there spent the first two songs — a peppy "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" and the more recent "Monkey To Man" — making an exodus to the empty seats in the front, followed by a reluctant trickle to the back with quickly tightened Blossom security at their heels as Toussaint entered and sang "A Certain Girl," an early hit for The Yardbirds. The duo played nearly all of The River In Reverse, which features a mix of classic Toussaint tracks with new songs co-written by the two. They also sprinkled in Costello's hits and rhythmically appropriate album cuts with new horn arrangements by Toussaint, which added interesting twists.
The taut faux "Watching The Detectives" became a fussy but fun jazz-noir ska with a typically dramatic piano solo from original Attraction Steve Nieve. "Alison" got a new elegaic horn and flute intro, plus Toussaint's lovely piano figures.
Just as on the The River In Reverse, Costello, wearing an understated black western-themed suit, did the bulk of the singing. While his familiar, nasal voice and sharp enunciation would seem at odds with the smooth R&B sound of the music, his vocals were soulful and powerful — particularly on the ballads "The Greatest Love," Costello's "Poisoned Rose" and "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," with Toussaint's modest tenor providing a nice contrast on a funky "Get Out My Life Woman."
The set list contained more than 30 songs, and Toussaint's elegant yet rollicking piano was featured prominently throughout, including an encore of variations on a classic Professor Longhair tune that led into the bitter new song "Ascension Day."
The overwhelmingly Costello-loving crowd showed its appreciation for Toussaint's music and lively piano playing with dancing and standing ovations, and reacted to Costello's references to the injured city and the government's slow reaction with cheers of support.