Elvis Costello doesn't have new material out, but he does have two new anthologies (The Best of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years and Rock and Roll Music) chronicling his celebrated early work. So you could assume that the creatively restless Brit would be more inclined than usual to load up his Electric Factory show on Saturday with plenty of crowd-pleasing classics.
And, at first, that proved to be the case. Costello and his backing band, The Imposters (featuring two longtime collaborators, keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, plus bassist Davey Faragher), opened with speedy takes on "Welcome to the Working Week," "Shabby Doll," and "The Beat."
Not every song retained its original intensity. "Big Tears" and "Clubland" sounded merely rote. Even when The Imposters gamely added new accents or textures to songs, Costello's rather rudimentary electric guitar buzz killed any drama.
Not that Costello wasn't capable of nuance, as on a soulful "Secondary Modern," a creepy "I Want You," and a stately "Man Out of Time." And when he played favorites like "Watching the Detectives" and "Radio Radio," the audience's rabid response seemed to inspire him to perform with more conviction. Proving that he was, indeed, in a nostalgic mood, Costello added two fine Beatles covers to his set, "All I've Got to Do" and "Hey Bulldog."
Halfway through the second of three encores, Costello brought out legendary New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint, with whom he collaborated on The River in Reverse last year. And suddenly, the greatest-hits show sprouted a spirited R&B set. Costello beat "The Sharpest Thorn" into submission by endlessly reprising its coda. He could learn a thing or two from Toussaint's effortless rendition of "Yes We Can."
But closing the 2½-hour show with "Pump it Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," Costello provided a memorable conclusion with his usual high-energy gusto.