A more pleasant evening than the one Tuesday at Lake Compounce Festival Park would be hard to find. Here was elbow room, nice weather and a sterling two-hour performance by Elvis Costello.
Backed with an interesting sextet culled from contributors to his fine Spike album, it was a sharply different show than those performed four months ago at small colleges.
While he did a handful of songs alone with an acoustic guitar in the manner of that tour, rarely were arrangements the same (the exception — the pairing of "Radio Sweetheart" with Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said" was indeed exceptional).
Otherwise, in his short solo spot, he swung swiftly from a 12-string version of "Everyday I Write the Book" to the recent Paul McCartney single, "My Brave Face" and back again.
Costello co-wrote that and a half-dozen other songs with the ex-Beatle that have so far appeared on each of their latest albums. Tuesday he seemed to claim some of them completely — and not only the hit "Veronica," (which he saved until the second encore that closed with a rocking "Mystery Dance" and "Pump It Up").
He also showed that "You Want Her Too," done as a duet on McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt, works better in a single voice so that it becomes more of the intended internal argument rather than a tug of war in the "The Girl is Mine" tradition.
Costello also sprung a yet-unrecorded McCartney collaboration called "So Like Candy." Otherwise, he avoided the usual Beatle allusions in his show. Instead of turning to the obscure Fab Four cover of "Leave My Kitten Alone" at the end of "Pads, Paws And Claws," he swung to another Mersey Beat selection Georgie Fame's "Yeh, Yeh."
With a band, he couldn't always deviate suddenly the way he did solo. But the band served grandly in turning "Uncomplicated" into a Bobby "Blue" Bland-style boogie and "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" into pure Dixieland.
Much of this was possible due to the strong and versatile band members.
Standouts were Marc Ribot, of Tom Waits' band; on searing electric guitar and an odd instrument called the E-flat horn, Jerry Scheff on bass and tuba, Larry Knechtel on piano and organ and Pete Thomas, the only remaining Attraction, on drums.
Unfortunately, despite his consistent work over the years, many fans — especially younger ones for some reason — prefer the stuff from his 12-year-old debut album, so full of promise and intrigue.
He played those favorites, but on his own terms — preventing standards like "Alison" from being a swaying singalong; playing "Watching the Detectives" with a lilt more jazzy than reggae-based.
But no longer the angry young man, he seemed happy to perform, which may have added to the evening's pleasance.