TORONTO — How do you like acclaimed British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello? Hard-boiled or sunny side up?
Try overeasy and that about sums up Costello's sold-out show with original Attractions pianist Steve Nieve at Massey Hall last night.
Costello's pleasant enough performance — his first at the famed Toronto venue in 21 years — seemed to take a major cue from his recent collaboration with composer Burt Bacharach on their 1998 album Painted From Memory.
Now depending on what you thought of that project — it's probably my least favourite thing that Costello has done — you may have walked away from Massey Hall all contented and feeling like you got your money's worth.
The Costello-Bacharach album, by the way, wound up on many 1998 Top 10 lists and won the duo a Grammy recently so a lot of people would agree with you.
And, truth be told, some of the Painted From Memory material — like "What's Her Name Today?" — benefited from the absence of Bacharach's flowery orchestral arrangements.
Still, I would have preferred less romantic ballads from Costello — there was even a brand-new one written by him and Nieve called "You Lie Sweetly" — and had him bristling more with anger, passion and wit, which he did show brief flashes of last night.
Like when he introduced the Painted From Memory song, "This House Is Empty Now," saying it's when a man "must take out his old Chilliwack records and give half to his wife as they divide up the spoils."
For the most part, however, Costello stayed away from more familiar new wave-pop hits — "Everyday I Write The Book" was welcome in the setlist — and seemed to want to keep the mood more obscure, low-key, intimate and stripped-down.
He even played with the acoustics of several songs by either backing away from the microphone or encouraging singalongs. Sometimes this worked, like on the spirited "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" where the crowd participation only improved the song.
Costello and Nieve last played here in May 1996 at the Warehouse delivering a far superior show due to the major inclusion of songs from that year's release, All This Useless Beauty, which — in case you care — ended up on my Top 10 list.
Last night's show was a hot ticket by any measure.
Disc jockeys were calling me the day of the show desperate for tickets while scalpers were in buying mode only. Ticketless fans were also approaching the box office window right up to show time but left empty-handed.