"Something always happens when we come to Memphis," says Elvis Costello. "Sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's something else."
On Friday night, the British singer-songwriter, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Grammy winner will be back in Memphis playing his namesake's home, with a concert set for Elvis Presley's Graceland.
"The address we are playing is surprising to say the least," quips Costello.
Here are five things to know before you go:
Back in the Bluff City
Costello is making a relatively quick return to the Bluff City, less than a year removed from his show at the Orpheum, which came after his recovery from cancer in 2018.
"The last time … I was one phone call away from having to fly to England as my 91-year-old mother fought hard to recover from a stroke and happily is with us still," Costello says.
"People who saw us play last year might have caught a little struggle but put it down to an illness that I'd already beaten. It isn't easy to align your energies when you want to be in three places at once."
Costello's current jaunt, dubbed the "Just Trust" tour, hasn't seemed to suffer from any lack of focus — in fact, it's been his most widely hailed and raved about run in recent years.
"Right now, I don't think I've ever heard The Imposters and our singers sound better," Costello says. "It's a privilege to be standing out front, trying to lead the way."
Costello began coming to Memphis relatively late, not making his first appearance in town until 1983, six years after the release of his debut, My Aim Is True. He played Mud Island again in 1984, before a decadelong gap that saw him finally return to the venue with the Attractions in 1994. Another 10-year absence followed, but starting in the early 2000s, Costello has been a regular and enthusiastic visitor to the Mid-South.
The Graceland show will represent Costello's 11th concert appearance in Memphis in the 21st century, a number that includes gigs at the Orpheum, Minglewood Hall, the New Daisy, the Beale Street Music Festival and multiple shows at the old Hi-Tone Cafe around his The Delivery Man LP, recorded in nearby Oxford, Mississippi. Among those were two packed, sweaty nights at the Hi-Tone preserved on the 2005 DVD release Club Date — Live in Memphis.
Costello's Beale Street Music Fest appearances have been equally memorable, guest-filled occasions. His 2005 set featured appearances by Howlin' Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin and Los Lobos' David Hidalgo, while his custom-curated band for the 2009 fest featured Jim Dickinson, in what would prove to be the Memphis pianist/producer's final public appearance.
The "Just Trust" tour has seen Costello expand his production, incorporating multimedia elements and bolstering his longtime backing band The Imposters (drummer Pete Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve and bassist Davey Faragher) with Crescent City vocalists Briana Lee and Kitten Kuroi.
"(Lee and Kuroi) will be heading north from New Orleans, so we hope to bring all of the music and my pictures in the backdrop to town," says Costello of the Graceland gig. "Some of those images tell a story, too, and if nothing else they save you from having to look at my face all night long."
The tour's "Just Trust" isn't a reference to Costello's 1981 album Trust (though he has been playing a selection of songs off the album), so much as offering fans a bit of reassurance about the nature of the setlists.
As Costello's tour announcement noted, "Just Trust" is an "answer to the musical questions: 'Will they play my favorite song?' or 'Are they going to frighten the horses with a lot of excellent songs that are rarely performed?,' not to mention, 'Can I expect the hits of yesteryear and those of tomorrow?' To which we say: Just Trust Elvis Costello and The Imposters."
While Costello closes with classics and familiar fare — such as "Alison," "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" — the shows have also seen him playing songs that he's rarely ever done or not performed in decades.
These include deep catalog cuts, B-sides and other nuggets, from the Trust track "Different Finger" to the Momofuku cut "No Hiding Place," the Taking Liberties rarity "Crawling to the USA" to the soulful "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone?," an All This Useless Beauty album track originally written for Stax veteran Sam Moore.
"Every show on this tour has brought out different songs, some I didn't know I still knew how to love, let alone sing, some you will know well, others that I call on the spot," Costello says. "It takes the show down a different route each evening, whether 'From a Whisper to a Scream' to 'Country Darkness.' I can't promise you anything other than we'll give our all."
Front row and Golden Circle tickets to the Graceland Soundstage show have sold out. However, good seats in four other tiers — with prices ranging from $39.50 to $84.50 — can be purchased at Gracelandlive.com.