Though 40 years removed from the prickly punk who defied Lorne Michaels' order not to play "Radio, Radio" on Saturday Night Live, as an artist intent to do things on his own terms Elvis Costello's aim remains true.
So while he joined many a legacy artist in touring with the promise of a classic album in full — The Joshua Tree, The River, Moving Pictures, The Wall and Songs in the Key of Life are among those I've seen performed — the man born Declan MacManus deviated from the norm by sprinkling songs from 1982's Imperial Bedroom among the 31 he played in sum, far from the original sequencing.
Due perhaps to high winds that may have abbreviated the terrific 140-minute show just a bit, Costello even omitted two album tracks — "Little Savage" and "Town Cryer" — which seem to typically be played, along with Imperial Bedroom's 13 other songs, at most other tour stops.
But I don't think many in the relatively small but clearly appreciative crowd minded this too much, as Costello and his backing band, The Imposters — featuring two of the original Attractions, pianist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas, plus bassist Davey Faragher and a pair of female vocalists — sounded fantastic along the lakefront.
The quality of Costello's material — on this night comprised almost entirely of songs written before he turned 30, even though the 62-year-old has remained rather prolific — is quite estimable, but whomever ensured the acoustics would be so good at a makeshift outdoor venue on a night that was initially quite warm & humid and later ensnared by strong lake breezes also deserves a hearty round of applause.
Costello often plays the far-more-pristine Chicago Theatre, and the Englishman astutely referenced that many in Monday's crowd likely missed his show there last October because it coincided with a Cubs World Series game.
Guilty as charged. Unapologetically.
But while my six previous Elvis concerts dating back to 1991 are but a fraction of the 40-some of my friend Paolo, with whom I attended this one, I have long been a fan and was glad to find this show great in ways both consistent and unique.
Though I haven't minded hearing cherished artists play great albums in full — and in order — the predictability sometimes seems stifling.
So while it was a real treat to hear Costello play Imperial Bedroom songs that are far from concert staples — "Tears Before Bedtime," "Shabby Doll," "The Long Honeymoon," "Kid About It," "Pidgin English," "Boy With A Problem" and one of my all-time favorites, "Human Hands" — none of them felt rote, and the shuffling probably allowed each to shine a bit more individually.
I also enjoyed how stage backdrop slides morphed the Picassoesque imagery from the Imperial Bedroom album cover — which was designed, as were several of his early records, by Barney Bubbles — onto the covers of other Costello albums, or presented otherwise cheeky designs tied to certain songs.
And "Watching the Detectives" featured a run-through of many film noir poster images as Elvis and the band were largely shrouded in darkness.
Although the show understandably left out some classic gems, "Accidents Will Happen" was an early highlight, "Pump It Up" a late one and a stripped-down "Alison" — featuring Costello onstage with only backup singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee — was absolutely blissful.
Following "Alison" to open the encores, Costello performed a number of songs accompanied by the masterful pianist, Steve Nieve, with "Shot With His Own Gun" and "Talking in the Dark" being two favorites on a night of several.
I'm not sure why a few idiots in the crowd felt the mournful "Almost Blue" — which Elvis noted he had written for legendary trumpeter Chet Baker — was a good time to carry on loud conversations, but it too was a delight.
I was somewhat surprised when Costello seemed to audible into "High Fidelity" after a final pair of wonderful Bedroom songs — "Beyond Belief" and "Man Out of Time" — and past the 2-hour mark with winds swirling, I wondered if that would close things out.
But Elvis indeed hadn't left the, um, impermanent outdoor pavilion.
Bringing his crack band back for delectable versions of "Everyday I Write the Book," "Pump It Up," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," Costello put an exclamation mark on an outstanding show.
Not that it really matters, but for awhile I thought I might award 4½ stars, for a show that was great but perhaps not transcendent.
But at the end, with a legendary artist having sounded fantastic across nearly 2½ hours, digging deep into his catalog on a beautiful night, I really couldn't find rationale to deduct any star.
After all these years, while showcasing Imperial Bedroom, Elvis Costello's aim remains true.