Elvis Costello's affection for American music was in full bloom Tuesday at Bass Concert Hall. On record it's been on display with an album of country covers, 1981's Almost Blue, his watershed acoustic opus King Of America from 1986 and latest Secret, Profane and Sugarcane, an amalgam of country styles performed with some of Nashville's best musicians.
For this tour he brought those musicians — Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Mike Compton, Jim Lauderdale, Dennis Crouch, and Jeff Taylor — with him for a nearly three hour performance that included almost all of Sugarcane and covers from Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Merle Haggard, the Grateful Dead, and one curve ball, the Rolling Stones. It was one of the most engaging performances I've seen the man give in more than 30 years of following his career.
The Delivery Man seemed particularly comfortable on stage, perhaps as a result of hosting Spectacle, his TV talk show on the Sundance channel, telling stories of his bandleader dad Ross McManus, June and Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Hans Christian Andersen to explicate some of his old and new songs. The music, though, was all country, blues, and bluegrass, right down to interesting reworkings of "Blame It On Cain," "Everyday I Write the Book" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." Of the new material, "Complicated Shadows" was appropriately mysterious, complete with shady stage lights, while "My All Time Doll" bounced along playfully.
With those players it would have been a crime if Costello didn't dig into King of America, and there was no disappointment with sterling readings of "Brilliant Mistake," "Indoor Fireworks" and "Poisoned Rose," the latter with special guest Patty Griffin on backing vocals.
After more than 90 minutes, the encores started rolling. It was as if another concert began as Elvis and his Sugarcanes played for almost another hour, highlighted by a strutting "Sulphur To Sugarcane" and a nod to Keith Richards with "Happy." Some left early, apparently worn out by the musical barrage, but no one could have complained that they didn't get their money's worth.