Nearly 10 years after his last real tour, after detours into film scoring, classical music and art-song, Elvis Costello reinhabits his old persona as a pin-sharp rock 'n' roll pinhead better than anyone has a right to expect.
"You want to throw me away, I'm not broken," he proclaimed in the first of three sets of encores in his Tuesday concert at the State Palace Theater. "I've got a lot to say, I'm not choking." It's amazing that he wasn't — he spent nearly all of the show's 100 minutes delivering the unending lines of lyrics and melody that are his trademark, pushing his already-pinched voice to the limit.
He's a little thicker now, not the knock-kneed boy wonder of pop that he used to be. But though his new material is more subdued, he and the virtuosic band that helped launch his career in the late '70s, the reunited Attractions, roared through new and old material with garage rock fury and scientific precision.
Taking the stage to the sound of circus music, the minimalist quartet wasted no time ripping into the early classic "No Action." Racing from one tight song to the next with speedy efficiency, the band was riveting with focused intensity. Keyboardist Steve Nieve no longer limits himself to cheesy Farfisa organ; touches of synthesized strings or flute filled out the sound. That sound was overly loud at first, turning Costello's barrage of lyrics into a wall of fuzz.
Conducting the band with quick waves of a hand or his guitar, giving the perfect country vocal hiccup, hunched over and pounding chords or clumsy but intense little guitar solos, falling away from the mic like a soul man — Costello had great moves, not fake cool. He greeted the cheers with the wave of a conquering hero, and rewarded them with encore after encore of old favorites.