"I've got a suitcase of phony wisdom to dispense," warned Elvis Costello as he sang "Needle Time" Sunday. But fans packing Kingsbury Hall for the first Utah appearance by one of rock music's great songwriters were more than willing to buy into anything dropping from Costello's lips.
He didn't disappoint, either, delivering 31 songs (32 if you count the extended instrumental nestled between "Clubland" and "Heart Shaped Bruise") over the course of nearly 2½ hours. Backed by his stellar band The Imposters — drummer Pete Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve from his long-time band The Attractions, plus bassist Davey Faragher — Costello reached into all corners of his extensive back catalog, with a focus on his latest, country-tinged album The Delivery Man.
Before delving into his newest work, though, Costello got the crowd revving with a blast of upbeat classics. "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" opened the show, followed by "Uncomplicated."
Next came "This Year's Girl," featuring the distinctive keyboard blasts of Nieve, followed by the always-potent "Radio, Radio," a striking screed about the sorry state of the airwaves as meaningful in 2005 as it was in the late '70s.
"Country Darkness" was the first song from The Delivery Man to make an appearance, and it showcased Costello's strong croon, perhaps better now than when he packaged it in three-minute blasts of punky new wave nearly 30 years ago. Throughout the night, he paired that voice with extended guitar workouts that never would have come from him in the early years. Costello has apparently tapped his inner Guitar God, and rambunctious solos popped up regularly during the show.
New songs like the searing ballad "Either Side of the Same Town" and "Heart Shaped Bruise" fit in nicely along such older cuts as "Blame It on Cain," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and "Clubland," delivered with an extended instrumental workout at its conclusion.
Following the subtle reggae/ska of "Watching the Detectives," Costello paired two of his new album's best songs, "The Delivery Man" and "Monkey to Man." The first featured some of Costello's provocative wordplay (In a certain light he looked like Elvis / In a certain way he feels like Jesus), and the latter allowed Nieve to pound out roadhouse-style piano riffs to match Thomas' powerful drum strokes.
Costello gave his newer songs plenty of energy, but didn't flag in delivering the classics. He broke a guitar string during heavy strumming on "Pump It Up," and followed that with an emotional take on a song he's played thousands of times, "Alison."
"It's taken us a long while to get here," Costello said near show's end, promising to return. He closed with a stirring take on "Almost Blue," a reckless performance of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" and the gorgeous "The Scarlet Tide," the closing song on The Delivery Man.
Utah's Costello fans can die happy now that he's played Zion, but a few more stops here would be better.