A long time ago Elvis Costello was seen as an angry young man.
Tuesday night at the Tennessee Theatre, Costello, 53, seemed to be just as much of a musical firebrand as he was in his 20s, but he exhibits an aura of goodwill and graciousness. Over the span of 28 songs and nearly 2½ hours, Costello and his band, the Imposters, delivered the bulk of his just-released album Momofuku along with a stack of fan favorites and even a rendition of "Knoxville Girl" with only Costello accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.
The songs from Momofuku have the vibrancy of his earliest songs, but a deeper maturity. "Harry Worth" is a snarky loungy number telling the story of a couple of fans who have been coming to Costello's shows since they were first married and their marriage slowly dissolved over the years. "Turpentine," "Go Away" and "American Gangster Time" all bristle with the passion that make Costello's best work so riveting and, Tuesday, his rendition of the song "Flutter and Wow" made a convincing case that he is actually a soul singer.
The Imposters, keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher, have been playing with Costello for years, but show no signs of complacency. Nieve, in particular, came up with surprising and edgy accompaniments. And, the show was roomy enough for Costello to show off his own surprisingly soulful electric guitar playing.
Late in the show, Costello told the crowd "You have to write about what's really important to you" and proceeded to perform his song "My Three Sons" — which may be the most direct and sweet song he's yet written.
While "Radio, Radio," "Alison" and the riveting closer "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" were terrific moments, Costello's torrid, stretched-out version of "I Want You" from 1986's Blood and Chocolate may have been the most amazing.
"Amazing" is a good word to describe the entire show. Costello seems to be entering his second golden age. Tuesday's crowd was very lucky to witness it.