Seattle is one of the first cities in the nation to hear Elvis Costello perform songs from his great new album, All This Useless Beauty, released just two days ago.
Costello fans who haven't already picked it up will flip when they hear it. It is easily one of his finest albums, with the best songs he has recorded in the 1990s, featuring wonderfully dramatic and nuanced vocal performances. Twenty years after he exploded onto the scene with the brilliant, career-making My Aim Is True album, Costello shows he is still a force to be reckoned with.
The Showbox gig, announced just a couple of weeks ago, sold out immediately. It's one of only a few shows Costello and pianist Steve Nieve will do in selected cities to promote the new album. All the performances will be held in small, intimate places — which is why they're not playing the Paramount or the Moore — and will feature songs from the new album, along with some unrecorded material the two composed together.
The handful of gigs will also serve to whet fans' appetites for a worldwide Elvis Costello & the Attractions tour of theaters and amphitheaters, beginning in August.
All This Useless Beauty continues Costello's reunion with the Attractions, his original band. They reunited two years ago, after nine years apart, for the uneven album Brutal Youth and a concert tour that included an appearance here at the Paramount. In addition to Nieve, the band includes Pete Thomas on drums and Bruce Thomas on bass.
Serious fans will recognize a couple of the songs on the new disc. "The Other End of the Telescope," a spare, beautiful tune, was originally recorded by 'Til Tuesday. "You Bowed Down" sounds Byrds-like because Costello originally wrote it for Byrd-man Roger McGuinn (who recorded it on one of his solo albums).
Although the album mostly harkens back to the glory days of Elvis Costello & the Attractions in the late 1970s and early '80s, a few cuts reflect Costello's recent forays into classical-music writing and performing. "Poor Fractured Atlas" quotes from Beethoven's Moonlight sonata, and "I Want to Vanish" features the Brodsky Quartet, whom Costello frequently collaborates with (most notably on The Juliet Letters, the artful song-cycle album released in 1993.)
The album, the tours and his other activities — including "My Dark Life," the appropriately creepy song he co-wrote with Brian Eno for Songs in the Key of X, the X-Files soundtrack album; and a new song he composed with Burt Bacharach (!), "God Give Me Strength," for the forthcoming film Grace of My Heart — show that Elvis Costello is back in full effect. And we're all lucky for that.