How does an acclaimed, prolific songwriter and performer transition from regularly releasing new material to taking a trip down memory lane and playing the classics? It's a topic Elvis Costello delves into in his 2015 memoir, Unfinished Music and Disappearing Ink. His solution: draw on his extensive back catalog and play the material on his own terms.
While a lot of his fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famers are content to trot out an album and simply replicate it, at the Palace Theatre on Wednesday night Costello took the worn-out concept of artists playing a classic album and made it something unique: He played his 1982 masterpiece Imperial Bedroom differently than on record, out of order and interspersing its tracks throughout his two-hour set in a way that made it feel less like an album being played and more like organic song selection.
After his past several visits to the Capital Region presented Costello as an acoustic troubadour, this show was about Elvis the rocker. That tone was set early when he and the Imposters tore into a thunderous take of "Lipstick Vogue." After that came "... And in Every Home" and "You Little Fool." On Bedroom, those two are delicate, almost precious. Wednesday night, the former's horns were replaced by a melodic guitar line and the latter became a soul-rocker. In an introduction to "Tears Before Bedtime," Costello explained that he crafted a jaunty melody for it to mask his own feelings. The version he proceeded to play was stripped of its gloss and transformed into a powerhouse ballad that showed that while Costello's vocals are less youthful sneer and more rough-hewn, he can still belt 'em out.
"Moods for Moderns" and "Shabby Doll" also played into the evening's presentation of Elvis-as-garage rocker, with "Shabby Doll" featuring a slinky groove, funky bass line and couple of tight guitar solos from Costello. Soon after came a version of "Alison" that saw Costello strumming the electric guitar with vocal accompaniment by backup singers Yahzarah and Kitten Kuroi, as well as from an audience excited to hear one of his most recognizable tracks. He did also take the time to indulge his jazzier instincts with "Shot with His Own Gun" and "Almost Blue." As longtime bandmate Steve Nieve played the piano beautifully, Costello crooned like he was a 1940s barroom jazzman.
After that, it was back to big guitars. "Beyond Belief" was stripped of its majesty and turned into one of the rowdier rockers of the night. After a brief encore break, Costello returned with a strong version of "Everyday I Write the Book." He then closed the evening with a one-two punch of "Pump it Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" that had the audience up on its feet singing and dancing. Both songs were a lot of fun to hear and sent the crowd home happy.