Standing stock-still onstage in a finely cut black suit, Elvis Costello was a statue of steadfast rock cool as he stared down the sold-out Avalon through his standard black shades. Having just finished a mighty and vicious "Radio, Radio," his fifth encore, he seemed to be saying, "Come on, I dare you to dare me to blow your mind yet again."
Tuesday’s crowd took the bait and feverishly rooted him on to a frenzied "The Imposter" and six more encore songs.
Costello’s reputation as a guy who’s become more interested in Tin Pan Alley adult pop than rock ’n’ roll was erased as he and the Imposters — Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas plus bassist Davey Faragher — spent 100 minutes stomping through his early catalog.
With a pair of new 22-song compilations focused on his first 11 albums to promote, the show was an Elvis-ophile’s dream. Missing that old-guy paunch but breaking a sweat early, Costello opened with "Welcome to the Working Week" — the first cut off his first album — and played as if he was getting paid by the song with 10 tracks in 40-minutes including "Lovers’ Walk," "Clubland" and "Beyond Belief."
At first it seemed Costello’s sweat-beaded brow indicated exhaustion. Instead he was like an athlete whose perspiration proves he’s just warming up. The first 10 songs, none of them hits, were a prelude to a four-song main set finale and a 12-song, Energizer Bunny encore that just kept going and going.
"Alibi Factory" elevated the show to transcendence. Costello sung his great tell-offs with a mix of vitriol and good humor in front of his unexpected avant-garde guitar licks and Nieve’s violent theremin and keyboard blips and bleeps. From there he pushed the band into a risky, rewarding space with a chaotic, complex "Watching the Detectives" and a punchy "Lipstick Vogue" to close the main set.
Costello returned for the big, organ-propelled ballad "Man Out of Time" and a version of "(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea" that missed the snarl with which the band approached the song in ’78.
For his second encore Costello returned with only an acoustic guitar to do a version of "Alison" twisted enough to thwart would-be singers looking for the originally melody. The show climaxed at a fever pitch with "Pump It Up" and "(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding?" with the added lyrics, "Bring the boys back home/ Bring ’em back alive."
Costello will likely team with Burt Bacharach, Anne Sofie von Otter or some other adult talent on his next project, so it was rewarding to see he’s still got that juvenile rock kid in him. Let’s hope his inner tyke kicks and claws its way free from Costello’s debonair maturity more often.