MANSFIELD, Mass. — The summer is seeing all manner of musical reunions, mostly called by the tune of the box office cash register.
Elvis Costello's rejoining with his longtime band, the Attractions, may be seen as that as well. But more likely, after a few complicated solo projects (the last of which was a chamber music experiment), he realized the power and beauty of his lean backing trio.
The joy showed in his 27-song, nearly two-hour show Sunday night at Great Woods, the only New England stop in his Brutal Youth tour.
After an annoying set by the transitory and self-satisfied Crash Test Dummies, Costello began his set with the snap and verve of the two songs that urgently began This Year's Model so startlingly 16 years ago: "No Action" and "The Beat."
Costello, who turns 40 this summer, is clearly up to the task of recreating the pulse of those times, when he turned out three classic albums in 30 months.
And so was his old band. Steve Nieve played all manner of keyboard, from electric piano to organ to synth, in a style that suggested that he's been caged in the eight years since he backed up Costello.
Pete Thomas still attacks the drums with the inspired single-mindedness of Keith Moon. Bruce Thomas, who has written a book on how much he disliked being in the Attractions, was even back on his musical bass.
Against the well-chosen oldies, the new songs from Brutal Youth stood in sharp relief. By the time he threw in the first of what would be 10 of the 15 cuts, "Sulky Girl," the audience could see not only how much more his songwriting has become, but how much more challenge his voice could take. All that in songs that didn't lose the immediacy of his early albums.
Among the highlights: the warmly nostalgic "London's Brilliant Parade," done the way Ray Davies would have done it; the neo-country ballad "Still Too Soon to Know;" "13 Steps Lead Down," which led into "Radio Radio;" and the parting "All the Rage," which he prefaced by saying they may never see their devoted fans again.
The concentration on Attractions material meant a lapse of his earlier 90s material — only "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," begun as a solo acoustic style.
But after working with all manner of stellar guitarists on his past few tours, Costello is back being the only guitarist in the quartet, and he turned out some interesting solos that were tinged by what he had picked up from Marc Ribot.
Costello's current exercise is more akin to Neil Young's occasional linking up with Crazy Horse — celebrating a fabled union and furthering it, while conjuring up a heady body of work. Here, it included, "Beyond Belief," "Party Girl," "You Belong to Me," "Lipstick Vogue (with a verse of "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea") with hardly a space between songs. And it ended with the usual staples: "Alison," "Pump It Up" and "Watching the Detectives," splendidly done.