Over the course of his long career, Elvis Costello has taken to exploring musical territories beyond the brash pop that first earned him his ardent following. Costello's latest examination is of American roots music, and what better guide could he hope for than Emmylou Harris?
During a three-hour performance at the Bank of America Pavilion on Saturday, Costello and his fine-tuned backing band, the Imposters, turned the pages of his articulate and energetic catalog and provided a glimpse of the American songbook that has influenced the singer longer than some would guess.
Costello began with a flurry of his own classics, culminating with the desperation of "Clubland" and the funky "Waiting for the End of the World," which featured the unlikely but enjoyable addition of pedal steel guitar from guest Larry Campbell.
Then Harris joined the ensemble and, as if a switch had been flipped, the Imposters transformed from raucous rock outfit to impressive honky-tonk band. Costello offered up "Stranger in the House" as both singers proclaimed reverence for country legend George Jones. Harris offered "One of These Days," a song written by Earl Montgomery that found Steve Nieve channeling the keyboard ace who once played for a guy named Elvis: Floyd Cramer, who recorded with Presley.
Harris eventually exited to allow Costello to showcase selections from his recent release, The Delivery Man, highlighted by the rollicking "Monkey to Man." He served up an additional helping of classics that included a simmering segue from "Mystery Dance" to Hank Williams's "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)?"
Rejoined by Harris for a 10-song encore, Costello reached deep into classic Americana, with Harris singing the Townes Van Zandt standard "Pancho and Lefty." For Costello, the aggression of youth has given way to the wisdom of maturity, and with a companion as graceful as Harris along for the ride, the trip proved one for the ages.