It has taken Elvis Costello a few tours, but he's now admitting that some of the more "experimental" versions of his songs were not very good experiments.
"With a few exceptions, my songs don't have the mutability of jazz material," Costello said in an interview this spring. He was plugging his first work with the Attractions in seven years, Brutal Youth (Warner Bros.), which also happens to be the impetus behind the tour that brings E.C. and his old cronies to the Mann Music Center on Thursday.
"If you saw three tours in the last 10 years," Costello continues, "you probably heard three different versions of "Watching the Detectives." It could get pretty far out, not necessarily to the betterment of the song. I've been thinking about the culture of classicism that's out there right now — you can get the director's cut of a film. The original version of anything is considered the priceless one. That indicates people's desire for things that aren't in a constant state of flux."
How that translates to the stage: Fans can expect to hear close-to-the-original treatments of Costello standbys. "I'm starting to see those songs as compositions, that they're supposed to go a certain way," Costello says. "It's been great fun to experiment, to pull things apart, but it might be equally interesting to play them now the way they're meant to be."
If all this sounds as if Costello is presiding over an oldies show, rest easy: The composer of some of the most acidic songs in the rock canon says he'll be mixing in a healthy sampling from Brutal Youth, and vows that he and the Attractions will make sure nothing feels old. "Somewhere between being absolutely fastidiously faithful and completely having to redefine the songs every year is the right path. Kind of like saying 'This is serious music,' only we won't be standing there looking serious. I hope."