Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris nearly lived up to their dream billing Wednesday night at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby.
Costello and the Imposters opened the 150-minute, intermissionless show with souped-up country and punked-up Merseybeat. Highlights included an appealingly itchy "Everyday I Write the Book" and a tribally pounding "Uncomplicated," recast as a stadium anthem. Costello pierced "Needle Time" with a wailing, fly-swatting voice and a wounding slide guitar. Keyboardist Steve Nieves tossed honky-tonk fragments into the New Orleans rocker "Monkey to Man," an ape's putdown of humanity from Costello's new record The Delivery Man.
After eight tunes Harris joined Costello, her singing partner on The Delivery Man, a 2002 anti-landmine tour and a 1981 television show with George Jones, their hero of heartache. They began with overly careful, overly alert takes on the Bryants' "Sleepless Nights" and the Louvins' "My Baby's Gone." His pewter keen and her silvery wash mixed beautifully on Costello's "American Without Tears," a Celtic heritage waltz, and his "Indoor Fireworks," which he said male country singers won't record because the lyrics are too martini-smart. On her own Harris sang a gleaming, knowing version of Jones' "One of These Days (But Not Tonight)."
After Harris left the stage, Costello, the Imposters and ex-Bob Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell mesmerized with "The Delivery Man," the tingling tale of a killer with the mythic charisma of Jesus and Elvis Presley. They turned "Clubland" into a zany opera, with Costello supplying a guitar solo that blended Muddy Waters, Santana and "I Feel Pretty." The set ended with infectiously thrashing songs — "Mystery Dance," "Pump It Up" — strung together like a Ramones rave.
Harris' encore included a pleasantly weary "Wild Horses," a pleasantly bruised "Love Hurts" and a pleasantly nasty "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding?"