Like many true artist musicians — and a few pop hucksters — Elvis Costello has explored all of his divergent musical interests over the years, from classical to country, with varying results.
With so much work amassed, the 47-year-old songwriter's setlists can be everything from hit driven to hitless, but interesting either way.
Last night at the FleetBoston Pavilion Costello and his marvelous band the Imposters managed an amazing feat: pleasing all the people most of the time. Costello hit upon an intriguing hybrid theory for success by mixing some familiar radio songs — often with new arrangements — for the casual fans with some excellent obscurities and covers for the diehard loyalists and, likely, Costello himself.
Longtime fans ecstatically bounced along to a breakneck version of the still snarly "Radio, Radio," jerked to the slinky seesaw beats of "Clubland," sang along lustily to "Pump It Up," accepted the rearranged grooves of "Everyday I Write The Book" — its lilt replaced by a '50s rock shuffle — and gave a standing ovation to a snazzy, cocktail jazz version of "Watching the Detectives."
Delving deeper into his less commercially successful, more recent efforts yielded the slow swagger of "Sulky Girl" and the sly "Clown Strike" from 1994's Brutal Youth. The 1995 covers album Kojak Variety offered up a strikingly timely version of Mose Allison's swinging but bitter "Everyone's Crying Mercy," and there was a pleasantly noisy, burning guitar quality to "Complicated Shadows" from 1996's All This Useless Beauty.
Costello, looking fit, was in great voice, ably gliding from biting bark to adenoidenal but sweet croon. The latter shone as he indulged his love of classic r & b and country with a great loose version of Smokey and the Miracles' "You Really Got a Hold On Me" during the acoustic soul rave-up "Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror" and a lovely, gentle reading of Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams."
Costello also skipped through a delightful "I Hope You're Happy Now" and it's safe to say this audience could answer in the affirmative.
Former Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson opened with his less-than-scintillating new solo material, and most of the crowd used this opportunity to buy beer.