The weekend before SXSW, Elvis Costello played at a sold-out, jam-packed House of Blues in New Orleans. He and the Imposters banged out old favorites and new tracks from his current CD, The Delivery Man, with efficient purpose and well-rehearsed immediacy. They even reprised Dave Bartholomew's "The Monkey Speaks His Mind," the namesake for Costello's tour.
Based on his afternoon SXSW discussion with writer/MTV senior vice president Bill Flanagan, Costello left New Orleans with two lasting impressions. The first was of his inebriated audience.
"Drunk people would be calling out for numbers that we'd already played," Costello said.
The second was of the woman who approached him after the show on Decatur Street and pulled down her pants, revealing a tattoo of his face on her rear. She asked him to autograph the opposite cheek, so she could tattoo the signature. He obliged.
"It's times like that," Costello cracked, "that I'm glad my ex-manager didn't call me Engelbert Presley."
Augmenting his New Orleans stories were anecdotes about George Jones, Jerry Lee Lewis and Van Morrison and eloquent remarks on a range of subjects.
That such classic albums as Joni Mitchell's Blue are often discounted in England for five pounds strikes him as a travesty. "It should be 50 pounds," he said. "It's a work of art. Young people have no sense of the value."
At this year's Grammy awards, Costello notched another loss. "The monolith that is U2," he said, joking, "crushed us under their jackboot."
Not that he always walks away from the Grammys empty-handed: He met his wife, jazz singer Diana Krall, there. "That," Costello said, "is the best thing that ever happened."