Whatever rosy bliss he has found in his latest star-powered marriage, Elvis Costello still has no trouble locating the thorns that poke out of his songs — and no trouble playing the songs as if he were pulling thorns out of his unlucky hide.
Costello and his backing trio, the Imposters, were nothing less than upbeat and motivated on Friday night in Miami Beach. But facing a crowd of more than 2,000 at the Jackie Gleason Theater, Costello proved that physical vitality is only one measure of a veteran's performance. Access to the emotions that inspired the songs in the first place matters at least as much.
On stage this omnivorous rocker-composer, 50, seemed to have a direct line to every relevant instance of black humor, rotten-heartedness and doomed longing. It turns out a musician can live the good life and still sound disenchanted — Mr. Diana Krall pulled it off while playing with an exhaustive joy for well over two hours.
Costello gave his bluesy new album, The Delivery Man, a good, guitar-rocking spin: He set the fuzz tone on high and went through an attic's worth of Gibsons and Fenders on songs such as "Needle Time," "Heart Shaped Bruise" and "The Name of The Thing Is Not Love." Keyboard player Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas, and bassist/backing vocalist Davey Farragher punched up the new material to concert pitch and, in the process, improved on the studio versions.
Costello sang his rueful lyrics and sweet-sour melodies so forcefully that amplification seemed redundant. More than once, he pulled away from the microphone to finish a note or a phrase that would still carry into the seats like a fading train whistle. He was no less energetic with his standards and stand-bys. "Clubland," the exclusionary epic, got a Latin-rhythm makeover: Costello peeled off Santana-esque guitar lines and gleefully threw in a few fretted notes of "I Feel Pretty," from West Side Story.
He sat, legs dangling off the stage, for an acoustic version of "Alison" melded with Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds." He also took a front row seat — politely borrowed from a dumbstruck fan — and watched his band as he strummed and sang "Almost Blue." Finally, the whole house stood for a closing sprint that included, appropriately enough, "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down."