Less than two months after he picked up a songwriting award on its stage, Elvis Costello made a quick, welcome return to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium Monday night.
At his latest tour stop, the British rock troubadour tore through all 42 years of his celebrated songbook during a two-hour concert at country music's mother church.
Even better, he was flanked by The Imposters — the band that includes two-thirds of The Attractions, who fueled him through much of his best work in the ’70s and ‘80s.
Through a brisk show with many highlights, here's what stuck with us.
He’s still pitching songs to Nashville:
"I didn't start out to be a singer, and I think that's fairly obvious," Costello quipped while seated behind a keyboard.
"It's like wishing to be a matinee idol. I wanted to be a songwriter originally, so I wrote this here song. And I thought it was gonna travel far, but nobody ever cut it. But there's still time!"
He was introducing "Different Finger," which was a big swing for a classic country sound when he released it on 1981's Trust. That same year, he traveled to Nashville to record an entire album of country covers, Almost Blue, which earned mixed reviews.
On Monday night, Costello also recalled the band's earliest visit to Nashville, back in 1979.
"I remember that night because Carl Perkins was gonna sit in with us that night....Then he saw us play a full show, and when we came off (stage), he was gone. He thought better of it, I think."
The element of surprise:
Costello is calling this latest jaunt "Just Trust," and not because you'll get a decent helping of cuts from his 1981 album Trust (we counted five at the Ryman, including "Clubland" and "Watch Your Step.")
No, Costello wants fans to have faith. They're guaranteed to hear the likes of "Alison," "Watching The Detectives," "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding," but a good chunk of the set is switched up each night.
That can sting as much as it thrills:
Nashville didn't get to hear "Radio, Radio," "Less Than Zero" or "King Horse," but we did score "This Year's Girl," "Little Triggers" and "Party Girl."
They also added a new, harmony-rich dimension to cuts like "High Fidelty," and brought to life textures that had always been lurking on the records, but rarely make Costello's live show, like the ominous "oohs" in "Watching The Detectives."
In September, Costello came to the Ryman for the Americana Honors & Awards show, where he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting.
On Monday, he shared a little more perspective than his time at the podium that night allowed.
"You haven't seen that show yet, but you're in for a treat, because I was right in the middle of being very, very emotional. My brother, T Bone Burnett, who's here tonight, he made this beautiful speech, and I was in the company of all of these people, it was half my record collection when I was 17 years old. Delbert McClinton and Bonnie Raitt and John Prine.
And halfway through my halting words of acceptance, the smoke machine by the side of the stage malfunctioned and I disappeared in a cloud of smoke like the Wizard of Oz. And I thought, 'Well, there's a metaphor for my career.'"