Elvis Costello long ago established himself as the best songwriter of his generation. But he remains determined to explore every genre under the sun, collaborating with everyone from Billy Sherrill to Paul McCartney, from the Brodsky Quartet to his wife Diana Krall, and Emmylou Harris to, most recently, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint. The downside for fans of Costello the pop genius is that every now and again he overreaches and you just want him to go back to what he does best.
That was the case when Costello and Toussaint landed at the Bank of America Pavilion a week ago
last Wednesday night to fend off a major downpour with a two-and-a-half hour workout in support of their new The River In Reverse (Verve Forecast). It was clearly the Costello show, but Toussaint, Costello pointed out, wrote new charts to nine Costello-penned tune they performed, and it was Toussaint's four-piece Crescent City Horns who imbued classics like "(I Don't Want To Go to) Chelsea)" with sass and brass, trombonist Sam "Big Sam" Williams in particular emerging as a star soloist.
This was a trip to funkytown. Costello returned, in large part, to the soul man styling of 1980's Get Happy!!, and they played "High Fidelity" from it, too. The band — which included longtime Costello compadres Steve Nieve on keys and Pete Thomas on drums — were on point for the 10 tracks that made the cut from River In Reverse, an album Costello said would never have been recorded if Toussaint hadn't relocated to NYC after Hurricane Katrina. And Costello went on to bash Bush for his bungling of the disaster as an intro to "Broken Promise Land."
"The best time, personally, I've ever had on stage," is how Costello summed it all up. Toussaint played second fiddle on his grand piano for most of the set, but shone on "A Certain Girl" and on a Professor Longhair variation that began the second encore. And there was an implicit, positive message in Toussaint's exuberant "Yes We Can Can," vis-à-vis the New Orleans wreckage.