Elvis Costello came to promote his new album, Brutal Youth, judging by his set list. His fans turned out for New Wave nostalgia, gauging the crowd response.
It's been 10 years since Costello, one of the few survivors of the late '70s British punk movement, and his original backing band, the Attractions, stood on a Cincinnati stage. That occasion coincided with the singer's 30th birthday, he recalled during one of his few asides at Riverbend Music Center on Tuesday night. Now approaching his 40th year, Costello has clearly mellowed with age. But not nearly so much as his audience.
The crowd of 4,217 remained seated throughout much of the show, usually as Costello languished amid a wealth of mid-tempo numbers, but often while the still-tight quartet raced through its paces.
The opening number said it all: "there's No Action." Perhaps the 30- to 40-something fans' knees can't take pogoing anymore.
Of course, Costello is no longer the same spindly young punk, wearing a tight gray suit and horn-rimmed glasses, sputtering into a microphone. The nerd specs remain, but his oversized black suit housed a much larger frame.
The Attractions — keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas — were also showing signs of age, yet if you closed your eyes during rip-snorting numbers such as "Radio, Radio" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," you'd swear it was 1977 all over again.
Costello's voice was strong and supple; his band razor sharp.
However, those tunes didn't arrive until late into the two-hour show — most during his plentiful encores. For the first 70 minutes, it was largely slower-paced fare, such as "Rocking Horse Road" and "Still Too Soon to Know," from Brutal Youth. It seemed as if every time he'd build a bit of momentum, he'd throw it away, reserving his strength for the raging run of hits that brought the concert to a far more rousing close.
Highlights of Costello's three encores included the snarling vitriol of "Lipstick Vogue," "Accidents Will Happen" and "Pump It Up" — which is exactly what his fans had been waiting for.
Crash Test Dummies, an acoustic-based Canadian alternative band, opened the show with a playful, well-received 45-minute set. The group's lively, uptempo melodies kept the contemplative lyrics of songs such as "God Shuffled His Feet" and "Afternoons and Coffeespoons" from growing too self-consciously introspective.
Singer Brad Roberts, whose deep baritone seemed impossible to fathom coming from his diminutive frame, provided an alternate third verse to the band's biggest hit, "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," one of 26 he'd composed. The result of "toasting a lot of high-grade weed while writing," he said.