Midway into his performance at the Sunrise Musical Festival, Elvis Costello brought the band down behind him and extended his arm to the audience.
"This is the hand / That you never shook. / You never gave me the chance that it took," he said as he sang "Secondary Modern," a cut from his Get Happy! album.
With that gesture, with his new album Imperial Bedroom, and with his powerful and incredibly varied show at Sunrise Sunday night, Costello has served notice of an important and impressive shift in his career.
Costello has never shied away from change. In his brief, turbulent and prolific recording history, he has pressed tracks ranging from pounding, angry rockers to heartbreak country ballads to hot and funky rhythm and blues.
But critics and many fans branded him "Mr. Revenge and Guilt" based on the bitter cries against emotional and political fascism that dominated his early albums. Unfortunately, the label stuck and it has limited Costello's career. Things are different now.
Costello and his three-man band — the Attractions — still can pump out razor-sharp hard rock. They proved that by pounding out "The Beat," "Hand in Hand" and "Watching the Detectives," among others, to the delight of the near-capacity crowd that crammed the aisles.
But Costello — looking a little bulky in a loose-fitting black suit coat and trademark black horn-rimmed glass handled the show and the crowd like a performer in full command of his art.
He no longer writhes behind the microphone, ignoring or putting down his adoring fans while spitting out lyrics full of spite and rejection. The new Costello doesn't ooze charm, but he totally controls the show, has a smile and a word or two for the crowd and even throws in a few shuffling dance steps.
He has the confidence and humor to kick off a bone-crushing rendition of "King Horse" with the first verse and chorus of the O'Jays' hit "Back Stabbers." He tackles Smokey Robinson and Hank Williams with equal drive and ease and even puts his often mistakenly maligned voice on the line for torch songs such as "Kid About It" and the now near-classic "Alison."
The Attractions are as tight as the strings on John McEnroe's tennis racket, and they follow Costello through every twist and turn. Keyboard player Steve Neive deserves special praise. His organ, piano and synthesizers fill out and carry the sound, giving Costello the room to work.
Work he did. Winding down the two-hour performance, Costello closed with Imperial Bedroom, a song not included on the new album of the same name and kicked off an extended series of encores with his majestic new single "Man Out of Time." The show closed with the cocktail lounge tinkling of "Almost Blue" and the knock-out punch of "Pump It Up."
The crowd responded to Costello's every move, acknowledging his new material with the same excitement that greeted the "old standards." The sign at the back of the hall said it all. "Elvis Costello in South Florida. Beyond Belief!"
Opportunities for fans to hear "new wave" in this area have been limited. Costello's fans were not disappointed by the man who is turning the most serious, sophisticated — and danceable — music in rock today.