The pairing of Elvis Costello and New Orleans songwriter-pianist Allen Toussaint may seem a bit odd at first. The two began performing together at Hurricane Katrina benefit concerts last year after Toussaint's home was destroyed. However, after hearing their Katrina-inspired record, "The River in Reverse," and seeing the pair perform, one wonders what took them so long to hook up for an album.
The show started with Costello performing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" and a reworked version of "Monkey to Man," which was spiced up with splashes of brass from the four-piece Crescent City Horns. Toussaint took the stage for "On Your Way Down," the lead track from his album with Costello.
At first, the crowd didn't quite know what to do with the Costello-Toussaint combo. Songs like "Freedom for the Stallion" and "Nearer to You" sounded more crisp and potent than on record, but no one was dancing or singing along. It wasn't until Costello broke into his catalog that the crowd got moving.
He said he asked Toussaint if he would rearrange nine of his songs and nearly all nine of them made the set list. "Pump It Up" was kicked into high gear with the addition of horns. "Watching the Detectives" had extra oomph with a machine-gunning trombone solo and "Alison" was made an even more tender ballad with Toussaint's classical treatment that included a flute.
When Costello wasn't belting out his own hits, he was singing the songs he wrote with Toussaint, all of which sounded as if they would fit right in being bellowed from a Bourbon Street barroom.
However, it wasn't Costello's classics that were the night's highlight. It was simply seeing these two masters of their crafts performing together, soulfully in tune with one another playing beautiful songs that were equal parts sorrow, hope and joy, reflecting the spirit of New Orleans through their music.