Elvis Costello spent a lot of the past 10 years learning different ways of singing, becoming a torch singer on his collaborations with Burt Bacharach, producing an album of pop for opera's Anne Sofie Von Otter, lending voice to a new Mingus Big Band album.
Yet he has been pulled toward the urgent, seething rock of his earliest career, dating back 25 years, while never forgetting his own age.
"45," a song that rhapsodizes the singles of his youth while marking his own age when he wrote it, kicks off both his new album and his first show in Connecticut since 1991.
Reconvening two-thirds of his old Attractions as the Impostors, Costello played the careerbuilder.com Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford Saturday before an audience of roughly equivalent age, but equally ready to rock.
At times, Costello struggled to keep pace with the frenetic songs of his youth, including six from his landmark This Year's Model. They seemed to invite comparison with the sturdy song craft of his new When I Was Cruel album.
Though some songs relied on sampling and loops of a modern age — and a noisiness that often obscured his own guitar — the new work compared favorably. And Costello, once the picture of uncompromising artist on stage, got the crowd involved in the songs by singing or clapping along, or through amusing introductions that fleshed out their characters (usually involving "show business weasels").
Costello's penchant for slower delivery seemed to make songs such as "New Lace Sleeves" games of catch-up. The effort was valiant though; he broke a guitar string on the marvelous kiss-off "I Hope You're Happy Now." Among the other samples from his long career were an acoustic "All This Useless Beauty," a soulful "Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror" and loungy "Clown Strike."
By the end of the main set, timing was no longer an issue. And "Beyond Belief," "This Year's Girl" and "Radio, Radio" were a Costello fan's dream ending, getting the aged audience up and rocking for the remarkable string of encores — nearly half as long as the main set and consisting largely of the best of his new songs, such as "Alibi" and the frenetic "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)." So revved up was the band, powered by Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on keyboards, it could tear through "Lipstick Vogue" with no noticeable slowdown, only to stop for a stark version of "I Want You" that ended the fine show in strong, off microphone a cappella.
Before an audience that supposedly enjoyed such things, opener Joe Henry had an opportunity to show his sharp lyrics and intriguing chord changes.