Elvis Costello's most recent and most ambitious album was released almost six months ago, but tomorrow night's show at the Mann Music Center will be his first in the area this year. Shortly after the release of his album, Costello embarked on a brief tour of American college towns, where he played to the bright student crowds that have embraced his wry, complex compositions since his 1977 debut, My Aim Is True.
Twelve years later, Costello's original fans have long since graduated, and for many of those old-timers, the LP Spike has driven a hole in the heart of Costello's appeal. That's because, for the first few listenings, Spike can seem bogged down with frippery. Guest appearances by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band along with a bold instrumental palette encompassing everything from bouzoukis to glockenspiels, may seem the antithesis of the spare, spirited broadsides of Costello's earlier days.
But hold on a second.
Don't count yourself an Elvis alumnus yet, because another listen to the record — or the live show — will reveal all the extras to be underlinings and marginal notes around taut melodic texts every bit as bitter, ironic and earnest as anything Costello has ever done. It shouldn't come as a surprise if some of the most elaborately arranged tunes in Spike are stripped down and presented in Costello's solo set, and if some of his earlier hits are gussied up by guitarist Marc Ribot and the rest of Costello's Rude 5 in the evening's second act.