DALLAS — It should come as no surprise that punk rock icon Elvis Costello played pop balladeer Friday with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
In his 30-plus-year career, Costello has never been afraid to move outside of rock's comfort zone — his album Taking Liberties (1980) features a now-classic cover of "My Funny Valentine."
Success has allowed continued musical explorations. Costello has written song cycles, dance music and symphonic works.
He and longtime bandmate Steve Nieve have also written lush orchestrations to back many of his hit songs. These — and a couple of new pieces — made up Friday's performance with the DSO, with Albert-George Schram conducting.
Churning strings accented by pounding timpani propelled "Accidents Will Happen"; a hymn tune casts "My Three Sons" with a feeling of deep nostalgia. Clarinet curlicues and little whirlwinds of double-time flourishes in the strings gave the gypsy waltz "The Girl in the Other Room" a cabaret feel; brass choir gave a golden hue to "The Birds Will Still Be Singing."
Tunes such as "Veronica," "Greenshirt" and "Shipbuilding" recall the classic Costello. But sometimes the dark, moody nature of the music — and its walking pace, song after song — settled the concert into gloom. Costello's high, direct vocal delivery hasn't lost its edge, but at times it became brittle.
And some of the orchestrations, though filled with fancy and invention, simply tried too hard. The best pieces were when a band — Costello on guitar, a bass player, drummer Matt Wilson and pianist Nieve — fronted the orchestra. This dialed everything back to Costello's heyday and gave a lift to a concert that bordered on self-indulgence.