SARATOGA SPRINGS — Elvis is still king.
Elvis Costello, back with the Attractions for the first time since 1986, blew away the smallish opening-night crowd at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday night, blending vintage versions of past hits with ample offerings from Elvis' instant classic Brutal Youth.
Costello, who last played SPAC as a solo artist in 1989, pushed aside all pretense and simply rocked the way he and the Attractions did when they were punk rock's standard-bearers in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Elvis, wearing his trademark black suit and red shirt, and the Attractions hit hard from the start, opening their two hour set with a nostalgic 1-2-3 punch of "Hand In Hand," "Honey, Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?," and a raucous version of "The Beat."
Before the crowd could catch a collective breath, Elvis knocked his fans back with a triple blast of "Pony St.," "Sulky Girl" and a rendition of "Beyond Belief" that was indeed beyond belief.
Elvis, his glasses fogging up from the sweat and humidity, sounded fantastically caustic fronting his equally intense trio, rasping the vocals to songs like "Kinder Murder," "My Science Fiction Twin," and a rave-up of "Rocking Horse Road."
Costello was at his most intense all night, straining his vocal chords to what looked like their breaking point as he bleated out nasty versions of "Sulky Girl," "Pump It Up," and an incredibly mean rendition of "Radio, Radio" to close his second encore.
The Attractions — bassist Bruce Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, are a formidable backing trio and lost none of the sparkle on Sunday night that made them so great.
Nieve, looking like a demented incarnation of the comic strip character Schroeder — complete with a bust of Beethoven on his piano — pounded at his keys with a fury while the rhythm section of Thomas and Thomas kept things frothy, especially during "Lipstick Vogue" and "Radio, Radio."
Elvis looked very much at home with the Attractions, on a sparse uncluttered stage with only a black curtain for decoration. The band stayed and played close together, exactly the way they used to in the old days.
Speaking of old days, Elvis wasn't afraid to dust off a number of old Attractions gems. Elvis said in several recent interviews that he was going to play them the way they were written and he did just that.
Songs like "Uncomplicated," "Less Than Zero," "New Lace Sleeves," "The Beat," "You Belong To Me" and of course "Alison" were loaded into Costello's three encore sets, which went on for an hour after his show ended.
He may be a little bit older, a little bit heavier and a little bit slower, but Elvis Costello still has the fire that made him one of the most exciting performers of the last three decades. With the Attractions, the heat's just been turned up another notch.
Crash Test Dummies won a standing ovation in its SPAC debut, playfully mixing its bouncy pop with the David Letterman-ish between-song banter of lead singer Brad Roberts.
Roberts and his booming bass vocal were in superb form Sunday night, hitting low notes that rattled the amphitheater's rafters in songs like "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," "When I Go Out With Artists" and solid reads of "Afternoons and Coffeespoons" and "Superman's Song."