Back in town only a year after he brought his When I Was Cruel Tour to the Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto was spoiled by yet another visit by the incomparable Elvis Costello. Without a new album to promote and the luxury of playing in a soft-seater theatre, Costello used his return performance as an opportunity to treat his audience to a rare set of his own (if not necessarily everyone in the audience's) old favourites and a jazzy sensibility that may hint at the feel of his upcoming piano-based album, North, which is due in September.
Rather than slapping them with a greatest hits show, Costello's seduction of his audience was slow and calculated. Put the man in a theatre and he'll give you a theatre show — each time he changed his guitar the vibe shifted like a new act of a play — and he brought out all of his characters: the adult singer-songwriter, the angry young man and the tender softie. Coming out with a big hollow-body, Costello began his set on a mellow vibe, leading his Imposters in subtle, keyboard-heavy versions of songs like "My Dark Life" and "So Like Candy." While it was all tasteful enough, Costello's lack of interaction with the crowd and detached mellowness was frustrating and by the time he got to a deflated version of "Pump It Up," a few confused fans were shifting in their seats and desperately yelling out requests for "Alison."
But it was all part of Costello's genius plan. Changing to a solid-body guitar, he cranked out a revved-up rendition of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down." After playing rock 'n' roller for a spell, another change — to an acoustic guitar — was when Costello really turned on the charm, breaking down his wall of detachment and finally becoming truly intimate with the audience. Buttering up his victims with "Indoor Fireworks" and "Sweet Dreams," Costello sealed the deal by throwing in a cover of "You've Really Got A Hold On Me," eliciting tears and frantic singalongs from the crowd.
Throughout it all, while Costello's song choices made the show special and his band was pristine, it was his voice that stole the show. With the crystal clear acoustics of the Hummingbird Centre, Elvis' voice was front and centre. Often stepping back from the mic to let the air carry his anguished voice, it was the sincerity and quality of his tone that made this performance exceptional.
As if all that wasn't enough, Costello came back for more, giving two staggering encores, building the crowd up with "Everyday I Write The Book" and "Watching The Detectives," before completely devastating every tender heart in the room with a performance of "Almost Blue" that rivaled the chilling rendition of "I Want You" that he played at the Amphitheatre last year. Finally, knowing that he had us all exactly where he wanted us, Costello pulled everyone back up with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love And Understanding," leaving his emotionally exhausted audience to dance in aisles. We couldn't have asked for a kinder, or more dramatic, seduction.