Before Elvis Costello brought his Attractions across the pond for last summer's All This Useless Beauty tour, he and pianist Steve Nieve used earlier dates in five U.S. cities to work up songs from the overstuffed Costello songbook.
For the First Time in America is a limited-edition, budget-priced, five-CD box set, with each disc featuring a handful of performances from one city.
Most of Beauty reappears, but the real attractions are Costello's bravura reimaginings of songs from his own catalog, such as the anguished "Just a Memory" and elegant "Man Out of Time," and a range of covers including the Grateful Dead's "Ship of Fools," Burt Bacharach's "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself" and Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine."
The spare, spacious arrangements allow Costello to avoid the throaty, hurried oversinging that often plagues him in concert. Nieve's playing is properly rococo here and restrained there, everywhere augmenting Costello's words and melodies with the right mix of sensitivity and brio.
And for fans of Nieve, It's Raining Somewhere (on which he spells his name Naive) is a subdued live recording of instrumental "contemplative jazz" that's rarely as exciting as his playing with Costello.