Someone should just go ahead and give Elvis Costello a plaque with the words "Renaissance Man" on it. Maybe then he'd stop feeling the need to be so relentlessly creative. Last night, the master songwriter of the New Wave era turned in his second of three performances at Avery Fisher Hall. As part of the Lincoln Center Festival, he and the Imposters delivered a blistering set that comprised his best-known hits, a few rarities and a good chunk of new songs from an upcoming album — due in September. Two nights earlier, Costello and the Netherlands Metropole Orkest performed a set of string-laden Big Band pop songs. Tomorrow, the Brooklyn Philharmonic will debut Costello's first symphonic work, Il Sogno.
But the high-mindedness of his "artist in residence" stint at UCLA and his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet were forgotten when he launched into the pogo-worthy riff of "I Hope You're Happy Now" and "Radio Radio."
Dedicated boomer fans ready to relive their halcyon days quickly filled the aisles only to be summarily ordered back to their seats by no-nonsense Lincoln Center police. But all security really needed to do was wait for Costello to start playing his latest works. Though the new tunes had grit, they were hardly the soundtrack to a party. The neo-Gothic song cycle tells the story of three women in a small town who pin their hopes on a delivery man. Costello's description of one character, Vivian, was the only sliver of levity. "She's pretty much a liar and a drunk and a slattern into the bargain," he said. "But we love her anyway."
Costello wrapped up his 145-minute performance with a scathing version of the slow blues workout "Love That Burns," then unleashed his full fury with a crowd-pleasing combination of "Peace, Love and Understanding," and "Pump It Up."
By punctuating two nights of ambitious new projects with an evening of straightforward rock 'n' roll, he put his protean talent into perspective and gave frequently fusty Lincoln Center something to rave about.