PROVIDENCE — There's a mini trend among rock stars of a certain age to celebrate the anniversaries of favorite albums. Bruce Springsteen did it with The River. U2 did it with The Joshua Tree. Now it's Elvis Costello's turn, coming to the Providence Performing Arts Center Tuesday night with a tour built around 1982′s Imperial Bedroom.
Costello didn't play the entire album in order. The official title for the tour is "The Imperial Bedroom and Other Chambers" which gives him leeway to include other work, including early classics such as "Alison" and "Watching the Detectives."
But he performed almost all of Imperial Bedroom, while occasionally joking about the record's relative lack of commercial success. He even did the rarely performed "Boy with a Problem," using a lyric sheet to get the words right.
The show got off to a bit of a rocky start. I thought the sound was muddy and Costello occasionally had some difficulty finding the melodic line. "Accidents Will Happen" sounded oddly out of sync.
Costello used a pair of female backup singers, Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee, who seemed superfluous at times, but proved their worth on Imperial tunes such as "Tears Before Bedtime."
The show got better as it progressed, with a long version of "Watching The Detectives" that saw Costello and his band illuminated by dim green lights while the screen behind the stage flashed posters from cheesy detective movies.
And Costello clearly had found his vocal mojo with stellar interpretations of "The Long Honeymoon" and "This House is Empty Now."
But the concert really kicked into gear during its second half — technically an encore, but it took up nearly half the show. Costello put a new twist on "Alison," performing a very slow version with just himself and his two backup singers harmonizing at a single microphone. Then Costello moved to piano, where the trio did "A Face in the Crowd" and a rousing faux-gospel take on "Blood and Hot Sauce."
Long-time Costello accompanist Steve Nieve returned to the keyboard to help with moody performances of "Boy with a Problem" and "Almost Blue," before Costello brought his full band back to the stage to do "Sneaky Feelings."
The ending may have been predictable, but satisfying nonetheless. First came a long version of "Every Day I Write the Book" that had the audience up and dancing in the aisles, followed by "Pump It Up" and the big forward surge of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?