Elvis Costello seems like a pretty nice guy.
That's it. That's the judgment from his Monday night performance at the Meadow Brook Music Festival. Like the best of performers, he played a well-paced show, showcasing plenty of audience favorites and playing to the crowd.
And with that, Costello put to rest all the horror stories about 30- and 40-minute shows, no encores and a visible contempt for his audience.
Since those much-criticized concerts, somebody has taught Costello how to play to an American audience, or maybe he learned himself. It really doesn't matter now — the more than 90-minute set was as tight as a well-sealed envelope and pretty enjoyable, too.
More than just a nice guy, Costello has become a showman. He punctuated his lyrics with gestures, dance steps and knee drops. He seldom chattered to the audience, but he was full of thank-yous and even dedicated one number to "the folks on the hill. We hope you can hear us up there."
So he's no longer the angry young man the rock press dubbed him to be after My Aim is True and This Year's Model came out, and his song selection reflected the change.
Costello drew the majority of his set from more recent, reflective albums like Get Happy, Trust and his latest, Imperial Bedroom.
He took those songs and some of the old ones and rearranged them for a live setting. He sped up "Shadow Doll" and drove in the skepticism of "White Lies" by tossing a couple extra bass drum beats into the rhythm.
Costello also put some speed on a dramatic version of "Watching the Detectives" using green flood lights at the back of the stage for effect and breaking into an old blues standard at the song's bridge.
The showmanship also popped through in a salute to Motown, which included a reworked version of Smokey Robinson's "From Head to Toe" and soulful, uptempo versions of "Don't Look Back" and "Not Another Heartache."
Costello was ready for those with softer tastes as well, offering a strong version of "Town Cryer" and a smooth rendition of "Alison." Musically, the show belonged to keyboardist Steve Nieve, who took all but a few solo spots and added to those with some herky-jerky dancing.
Talk Talk opened the evening for the 7,300 fans at Meadow Brook. The quartet's set was comprised of strong, danceable songs dominated by lush keyboard arrangements reminiscent of old Genesis or the Moody Blues.