The Elvis Costello show on Wednesday night at the Dodge Theatre attracted a diverse, albeit small crowd. And you could easily tell who the crowd had come to see. The younger members were screaming and dancing during opening act Phantom Planet’s brief set, while the older audience members arrived later and sang along with Costello’s hits.
Phantom Planet started the evening off on a high note, with an energetic 30 minutes that showed why they are heralded among the new "saviors of rock." Singer Jacques Brauther jumped into the audience during their closing number, while the rest of the band gathered around drummer Jason Schwartzman (yes, the actor from Rushmore), helping him out with assorted cymbal crashes. After their set, members of the band came out to meet fans at the front of the stage while the roadies packed up their equipment. Many of Phantom Planet’s fans left shortly after the set, not even giving Costello a chance. Oh well, their loss.
His waistline may have advanced and his hairline receded, but Costello still rocks like the 20-something geek who first made waves in the late ‘70s. He also showed that the years spent making classical music with the Brodsky Quartet and crooning with Burt Bacharach haven’t dulled his edge.
Tracks from Costello’s new album, When I Was Cruel, held up well compared to the more familiar older material, and his new band, The Imposters, captured the spirit and energy of his classic backup band, The Attractions. Of course, two-thirds of the Attractions are in the Imposters, so that wasn’t surprising. Keyboardist Steve Nieve’s playing was surprising, however. When he started with Costello in 1977, his Farfisa organ was one of the key ingredients in Costello’s sound. Nieve has expanded his sonic palette considerably over the past 25 years, and he seemed an electronics wizard onstage Wednesday. Along with the Farfisa he leapt from a Rhodes electric piano to a heavily processed theramin and even pulled out a melodica for some tasty solos, especially on the final encore, "Almost Blue."
Costello was in good spirits throughout his set, and after about 45 minutes, exhorted the sitting crowd to get on their feet and rush the stage. From that point the energy could barely be contained. He quickly wrapped up his set with blistering versions of his classics "Watching the Detectives," "Radio Radio" and "Pump It Up," saying goodnight after a brief 70 minute set.
But what the main set lacked in length was more than made up for by the encores.
Returning with an acoustic guitar, he led the band through a set of quieter tunes, including the standard "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and his own somber anti-war tune "Shipbuilding," which climaxed with a gorgeous solo from Nieve.
Saying his goodbyes the band left again, only to return for a second encore. After a gorgeous version of "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" from 1989’s Spike Costello and the Imposters delivered a riveting version of the Arabic-influenced title track from When I Was Cruel.
Of course Costello didn’t forget his breakout hit, "Alison." It came about 40 minutes into the encores after his third curtain call and morphed into a tune by the "other" Elvis, "Suspicious Minds."
All told, Costello returned for four curtain calls, and stretched the show to almost 2-1/2 hours. Although he skipped several classic tracks like "Everyday I Write the Book" and "Veronica," he still served up almost 30 tunes, showing why Costello is one of the most revered songwriters since Lennon and McCartney.