During "The Beat," the third song of Elvis Costello and the Attractions' rousing two-hour set, the singer proclaimed, "Nothing here has changed / Just the beat," with more than a sly sense of irony. Most of the dedicated crowd (which chronicled every phase of Costello's career via a parade of tour T-shirts) cheered the sentiment, fully aware of the evening's import: After seven years, Costello and the Attractions were a band once again. Though the personnel hasn't changed, the bond avoided any accusations of reunion nostalgia by ripping into their past with the same ferociousness they proffered more than a decade ago.
Mixing older material with much of their new album, Brutal Youth, Costello and company opted for the rockier side of their catalog. Obvious standards like "Accidents Will Happen," the now Muzak-friendly "Alison" and the traditional closer "Pump It Up" were all given respectable run-throughs, but it was the choice of unexpected oldies like "No Action," "High Fidelity" and a deadly version of "Lipstick Vogue" that most excited the crowd. The new arrangements of Costello classics won similar audience favor: Aggressive guitar and pounding drums turned intricate compositions like "Beyond Belief" and "Shabby Doll" into unrelenting rockers, and the sweet soul of "Everyday I Write the Book" was given equally volatile treatment.
The Brutal Youth material met with mixed reception. Layered confections like "London's Brilliant Parade" and the crooning "Still Too Soon to Know" were just as unengaging live as on record. The dissonant "Kinder Murder" and the galloping "Pony St." worked best with the tenor of the show, though the swinging jazz of "Clown Strike" was an audience-pleasing surprise.
The best example of the band's fusing of old and new material came near the show's close: A faithful version of the current single, "13 Steps Lead Down," ended in a fiery Costello guitar rant, only to segue into a thoroughly spastic rendering of "Radio, Radio." With fans singing along and pumping their fists in the air, it was apparent that even after a seven-year hiatus, Elvis Costello and the Attractions are still one of the most exciting quartets playing rock music today.