It is a given that no musical act is as good on opening night as it is by midtour. But in the first performance of his first full-scale U.S. tour with a band since 1984, British rocker Elvis Costello offered a concert here Aug. 8 as good as many bands at their peak.
Costello's current outing, which follows a much-lauded spring solo tour, introduces a new group — the Rude Five (a six-piece, actually) to replace the shelved and probably defunct Attractions. The band was in generally fine form during the two-hour-and-15-minute show, with sympathetic, textured playing spicing a set drawn mostly from Costello's last three albums — King Of America, Blood And Chocolate, and his new Warners Bros. disk, Spike, still one of the this year's finest records.
But the real delight of the show was Costello's 20-minute solo set, which found him loose, playful, and segue-happy. He worked his own "New Amsterdam" into the Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Radio Sweetheart" into Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said," and more. He also emphasized his new connection to Paul McCartney by playing some of the duo's collaborations, including "Pads, Paws And Claws," "Veronica," and, from McCartney's Flowers In The Dirt album, "My Brave Face" and "You Want Her Too."
Good as it was, it was clear that Costello and his new band were still in the fine-tuning mode. Arrangements of some of his older songs were messy, while the sound mix was dodgy all night. Fortunately, for the 3,100-plus at Pine Knob, the glitches weren't enough to mar an excellent show.