It's the curse of being too talented.
Elvis Costello took the stage, passionately plowed through a two-hour set and left. The songs were excellent. His vocals were excellent. The band backing him was excellent. All told, it was an excellent show.
So how is it that Elvis slighted the crowd? How is it that, despite the brilliance of everything that did happen, the show was still incomplete because of what didn't happen? That's the curse of being too good, of having too much talent. Too many good songs, not enough time...
No sense in getting too down about it, though. Elvis may have completely ignored five albums and virtually ignored another three, but he and his longtime backing band, The Attractions, still managed a fantastic set before a nearly packed Mesa Amphitheater Tuesday night.
It was a rather special occasion considering what Elvis has been doing — or hasn't been doing — the last few years. Lost has been the snarling pop genius who, for nearly 10 years, ignited the music world with his tales of politics and love gone bad.
In his place has been an older, more refined Elvis, experimenting with brass bands, weird stringy instruments and most recently, a classical ensemble. All the while, The Attractions watched and waited.
But Elvis has recently re-found his old self, reuniting with The Attractions, recording an album and setting out for a tour with his old band for the first time in ... longer than can be remembered.
And it's a good thing. Elvis and The Attractions quickly harkened back to the old days, opening with four "oldies" from the early 80s. The show's first tune, "No Action" — one of those love-gone-bad two-minute pop songs — set the tone as the immaculately dressed Costello tore through the tune with the passion and fire he's been known for.
Elvis and his band segued the next three songs before finally stopping to bask in the applause of the crowd, a fair mix of middle-aged, middle-class nerdy folks and 20-year-old punks who were still learning alphabet when Elvis released his first album in 1977.
It was an even mix of material from Elvis' latest album, Brutal Youth and more old stuff the rest of the way.
Nearly everything from Brutal Youth — the exception being just three of its 15 songs — was preformed, including "Kinder Murder" and "13 Steps Lead Down," both of which Elvis and the Attractions have preformed on David Letterman's show during the past month.
The highlights, however, were the album's three bluesiest and funkiest tunes, all of which translated live very well — "All the Rage" "Rocking Horse Rd." and "Clown Strike."
While the reaction to the newer material — some of the best stuff he's ever done — was favorable, the crowd was most enthused to hear the older stuff, particularly during the fourth and final encore which concluded with back-to-back Elvis classics — "(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," a tune penned not by Costello, but by longtime producer Nick Lowe and "Pump It Up."
Also receiving a fond reaction was what may be Elvis' most signature song if such a thing exists, "Alison," one of just two tunes he played from his 1977 debut record, My Aim is True. The crowd insistently sang along, though the singing turned to cheers when Elvis broke into Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown" after the last verse.
No matter what Elvis did or sang, he continually reaffirmed his status as one of the greatest singers and songwriters ... ever.
Opening the show was Crash Test Dummies, a band with a better name than songs. What was most impressive about them had nothing to do with the music, though their mellow folk-rock sound was nice enough. No, what was most impressive was that they were there at all. After toiling in obscurity for a few years, the Dummies recently broke through after scoring a Top 40 hit which, had it been released three years ago, never would have seen the light of commercial radio. But alas, one hit in the age of MTV and you're opening for Elvis Costello.
Not bad work.