Deer Valley — Elvis Costello always has been a master at subverting expectations, whether it be sticking it to "the man" by switching songs midstream on Saturday Night Live or releasing an album with a sticker warning listeners of the country-western content within.
But performing with a symphony orchestra, singing the lines "The infants are dozin'; that's the kind of life I've chosen" — a reference to his 2½-year-old twin sons with wife Diana Krall? Not even the most avid followers of the British rock icon could have seen that one coming.
Costello was the Utah Symphony's guest on the closing concert of the Deer Valley Music Festival. It's his only orchestra date in North America this year, and the lucky patrons on the chilly hillside were treated to a mix of tunes from throughout his long and prolific career.
An extended orchestral introduction and Costello's crooning delivery on "Accidents Will Happen" made it quickly apparent he wasn't going to reprise his hits note for note.
Later in the evening, he introduced "Watching the Detectives" by noting it "used to go one way, and now it goes another way." The sped-up, noirish reinvention of the early hit was one of the highlights of the two-hour set, as Costello spat out the witty lyrics like bullets; dueling saxophone solos from Daron Bradford and Ray Smith smartly complemented Steve Nieve's killer piano.
Costello and his conductor, Alan Broadbent, involved the Utah Symphony in almost all of the selections, and while Deer Valley is still far from an ideal venue to hear an orchestra properly, the arrangements — most of them Costello's, and at least one of them written for this show — proved he is an intelligent, inventive orchestrator. "Bedlam" was a particularly fine example.
No one sings like Elvis Costello. His voice is one of the most distinctive in contemporary music. It isn't the most polished instrument, but he knows how to deploy it to sell a song. His expressive delivery of songs such as Billy Strayhorn's "My Flame Burns Blue" and Charles Aznavour's "She" gave the impression he could release an album of standards and actually pull it off.
It wasn't until the encores, though, that Costello and Nieve really cut loose and rocked.
The singer tossed a saucy local reference into "Sulphur and Sugarcane" ("I gave up married women 'cause they told me it's a sin, but now I'm here in Utah, I might take them up again"), then brought the evening to a satisfying close with a vintage Costello hit, "Alison."