When an artist reaches the stature of Elvis Costello, things often go one of two ways. Said artist can coast through a legendary catalog that has earned Hall of Fame status (an honor Costello was awarded this year), or he can continue striving toward the next great melody, reworking some of his previous triumphs. Costello and his banner backing band, the Imposters, have chosen the latter. Over the course of a two-hour set at the FleetBoston Pavilion Saturday night, they were unrelenting in the search for a new way to present a well-known track and recalled the prominence of some of Costello's deeper album cuts.
Crashing directly into "Waiting for the End of the World," the once angry young man was now a dignified gentleman, resplendent in all black but no less urgent in his playing. He then dipped deep for the Imperial Bedroom opening track, "Beyond Belief." The throbbing "Radio, Radio" that followed proved Costello was willing to mix it up, delighting longtime fans. A revitalized "Everyday I Write the Book" took an up-tempo swing while Costello chose to employ the original Sam & Dave introduction to "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" as opposed to his own, better-known version. In both cases the Imposters distinguished themselves by their familiarity with Costello classics as well as a willingness to explore new sonic possibilities within the songs.
"Clubland" remained a moody mid-tempo killer, and following the jazzy "Everybody's Crying Mercy," it illustrated Costello's musical dexterity. The keyboard textures of longtime associate Steve Nieve provided wonderful color all evening, shining particularly on "Uncomplicated," which found Costello delivering a blazing guitar solo. Nieve's slowed-down keyboard introduction to "Watching the Detectives" set a swinging jazz tone as opposed to the reggae-tinged beat the song is best known for. Again, the deviation was a smashing success.
The earthy version of "Pump it Up" that closed the set sounded as if Costello was reexamining his own material through the eyes of the Faces, or perhaps early Rolling Stones. The final encore, a frantic "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" found Costello twice hesitating on the conclusion, escalating the tension superbly before finishing the song with a flourish. Striding off stage with a Red Sox jersey thrown over his shoulder, Costello surely knew he'd hit this one out of the park.
In what might have seemed an odd opening selection, former Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson proved an enjoyable presence. Joined by Paul Stacey on acoustic guitar, Robinson delivered a strong, soulful set highlighted by the closing "Last of the Great Train Robbers." The song evoked memories of the Band's best Americana deliveries, while his cover of Ray Charles's "I Got a Woman" proved his Georgia roots intact.