"Pity about it being so cold and all," Elvis Costello cracked toward the beginning of his Central Park SummerStage concert last night.
Or maybe it wasn't a crack. Despite the oppressive New York heat, the dapper singer was dressed in a jet-black suit, which he kept on for the entire two-hour-plus show, never betraying a hint of discomfort.
The crowd that packed Rumsey Playfield might have been a little less comfortable than Costello, but the horrid weather certainly didn't keep anyone away.
Neither did the $60 ticket price, the highest in the history of the annual concert series. (Yes, we know, this was supposed to be a benefit for the purpose of keeping other SummerStage shows free. But judging by this year's schedule, the percentage of those no-pay nights is rapidly dwindling.)
Steamy, sweaty nights call for steamy, sweaty music, and Costello provided just that, with a set that delved deep into country and blues.
He was aided in his efforts for much of the show by the singing and guitar playing of Emmylou Harris — who guest-starred on Costello's most recent album, The Delivery Man, and who, more than 30 years ago, sang backup for one of Costello's greatest musical idols, country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons.
The spirit of Parsons loomed particularly large during two songs closely associated with him, "Sleepless Nights" and the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," both of which proved to be scintillating duet material for Costello and Harris.
The two singers also harmonized sweetly on several other country chestnuts, including Johnny Cash's "I Still Love Someone," Merle Haggard's "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" and Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)."
Harris got a chance to shine on her own "Red Dirt Girl" and "One of These Days," while guitarist Larry Campbell turned heads with his blazing fretwork.
Still, in the end, the night belonged to Costello and his three-piece band, the Imposters. Late in the show, during the outro of one of his biggest hits, "Alison," Costello started singing the words to "Suspicious Minds," made famous by another guy named Elvis.
Bassist Davey Faragher stepped to the mike to sing a stratospheric harmony part, and for a second, the temperature didn't seem all that bad.