Elvis Costello's new album, North, released yesterday, is an affected nostalgia record that hits the musical retro rockets so hard, the guy lands somewhere in the '30s, when tunes were powered with sentimental sophistication.
That's right — it ain't rock 'n' roll.
So when the Irish songwriter celebrated the release of that disc Monday with a gig at Town Hall featuring most of those new songs, there was as much trepidation as anticipation in the air.
But there was no need for worry. Costello and his ex-Attractions bandmate pianist Steve Nieve were very good at making the blue, moody, very old-fashioned love songs come to life.
While the program was uniformly slow, Costello's emotive delivery and physical showmanship kept the concert from becoming a yawn fest.
Though the merits of these new songs should be apparent on the CD, they aren't. Take the tune "Let Me Tell You About Her."
On the disc, it's easy to overlook Costello's clever writing when he croons the urbane couplet, "I wasn't very conversational, except to say, 'You're sensational.' Friends now regard me with indulgent smiles, but when I sing, they run for miles."
But in concert, with a little hand jive and his expressive rubber face, these lyrics got smiles and out-loud laughs.
That happened again and again during the show.
In the song "North," Costello was the master of the interior rhyme, creating whimsical lyrics such as, "Up where the polar bear and moose and geese will play, and some of them address you en Francais," was terrific during his stage delivery — yet the Looney Toons humor remains undetectable on the studio record.
The night was hardly perfect. Many of the in- and out-of-love songs sounded alike under the influence of Nieve's stark piano work.
That sameness was a constant, from Costello's musical history lesson, "45," with which he opened the concert, to his autumn love song, "Fallen."
Where he broke the stylistic pattern was with the concert showstopper "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," played with fond memories for the old new wave.