Time was when the music at Taste of Minnesota was all about nostalgia trips, with most of the headliners having had their last hits a few decades ago. But there was a sense that the tide had turned when Elvis Costello and his band, the Imposters, were booked for Independence Day night.
Yes, Costello first found an audience in the late '70s and has already been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but he remains a vital, if stylistically itinerant artist.
But if Costello was supposed to bring something fresh to Taste, he didn't get the memo.
His brisk, energetic set bounded from one early-career tune to another. And, despite Costello's vocals sometimes not keeping pace with his right-on-the-beat band, it was an exhilarating show that grew increasingly tight as the sun set over the Mississippi.
And that stands to reason when one considers that this was the first time Costello had played with the Imposters in almost a year.
This master songsmith's musical wanderings have brought him to bluegrass of late, but he's reunited with his rock compadres for a week of shows.
Since the Imposters are basically his original band, the Attractions, with Davey Faragher replacing Bruce Thomas on bass, it's no surprise that the group seemed so comfortable with material they were performing together during the Carter administration.
Throughout the set, drummer Pete Thomas was the rock of rhythm, while Steve Nieve attacked his banks of keyboards with a dada-esque sense of abandon.
Yes, "Blame It on Cain" got a heavy dose of country flavor, but most other interpretations hued closely to their original spirit of RB-tinged rock and roll. "Uncomplicated" pounded relentlessly, "Everyday I Write the Book" skated along like vintage Motown, and a rapid-fire trio of late-'70s vintage — "Radio, Radio," "Accidents Will Happen" and "The Beat" — were all fast and as furious as the day they were written.
Alas, throughout the evening, Costello seemed frustrated by a void between the stage and the vast majority of the audience.
Most of the "Gold Circle" seats, which sold for $50 each, were empty, while those who paid only for food and drink tickets were behind barriers that Costello often encouraged them to leap, much to security's chagrin.
It took some intimacy away from his songs, but Costello and company did their best to send their energy across the fields of Harriet Island.