Oh man. Where to start?
The band? The songs? The delivery?
Elvis Costello has used the occasion of turning 50 to show the world he's every bit the rock force he has ever been. With all his ups, downs, side projects, left turns and whatnot, he has only managed to grow his stature as a musician.
A mix of new and old songs on Saturday night showed that his most recent album, The Delivery Man, ranks right up there with the best of his classic work.
It was a blistering two hours, and, as usual, mystifying again. Last time he was in town, Costello abruptly left the stage an hour into the show, seemingly to end it – then came back and played another hour and 15 minutes. This time he wouldn't leave the stage, playing the show straight through, and doing his encores without ever really leaving the stage.
Costello played almost exclusively brand-new Delivery Man material ("Country Darkness," "Needle Time," "Button My Lip") or else extreme vintage material ("Big Tears," "Lipstick Vogue," "Alison") leaving most of his ‘80s and ‘90s work virtually untouched with a couple of exceptions ("Uncomplicated," "Kinder Murder").
"Radio Radio" was sped up to punk-rock proportions. Like last time around, Elvis covered Elvis, coupling "Suspicious Minds" to "Alison" and doing a full-out version of "Mystery Train." Even the things that should be getting old – "Watching the Detectives," and doing "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding" in the encore – were taut and crackling.
Like Tom Petty having the amazing good fortune to hook up with the Heartbreakers early on, it's a miracle that in London 25 years ago Costello hooked up with the then-unknown pianist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas and found himself with two of the most creative players in modern music. With malcontent bassist Bruce Thomas in permanent exile, the renamed Attractions are now more ferocious yet relaxed than ever.
If there were any complaints it would be that the show could have used more of Costello's fine ballads. And it's seriously time to retire "Pump It Up."
Tift Merritt has two excellent solo albums, and they still don't begin to do justice to her music. Opening for Costello on Saturday night, she wowed the crowd with her presence, charm and voice. The title cut from her most recent album, Tambourine, was a highlight.