New Orleans — "Barcelona."
There was no explanation behind the answer, no wandering about for a response. When Elvis Costello was asked what his favorite city in the world was, he gave the answer on his own terms.
The short answer is indicative of the way that Costello (born Declan McManus) thinks. During the last two decades, the English songwriter has described the world using his own unique perspective. Last year, the iconoclastic performer brought his old band, The Attractions, together to record his latest offering, Brutal Youth. They are now touring the U.S. this summer.
"We could play larger venues, but what would we gain?" said Costello, when asked why he wasn't playing larger halls. "If we tried to play to a larger capacity, we would lose that contact with the audience."
As for his reunion, with keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas, the singer was very upbeat.
"It's great to be back with these guys," he said in his soft English countryside clip. "It's been about eight years since we toured, and it's going just great."
Does this newfound enthusiasm mean that he will continue to work with The Attractions after the tour, possibly on the next record?
"I don't know. Everything is going great so far, but it depends on a lot of things. It's really too early to tell."
It's easy to see why the singer has room to be pleased with life. His band has performed twice on Late Night With David Letterman in the last six months ("He really seems to have taken a shine to us, said Costello of Letterman), and Costello was recently featured in a duet during Facebook Tony Bennett's Unplugged gig on MTV.
Additionally, not every songwriter can say that he has had the opportunity to work with the likes of Paul McCartney. "Veronica," the single of Costello's Spike album, featured McCartney on bass and backing vocals.
"When we wrote together, it was for his album," clarified Costello. "Actually, I was producing him. If you look at that record (Flowers in the Dirt), you'll see some five different producers listed. We have a slightly different approach than he does.
"I am always writing songs," Costello explained. "Even on the mad I come up with ideas. 'There's some really wild things that I've come up with since the tour started."
Fortunately, Costello's wife Caitlin O'Riordan shares his passion for music. Formerly the bass player for the Irish traditionalist rockers, The Pogues, the two met when Costello was producing a record for the band.
"She still plays, but for herself," said Costello. "She still writes quite a bit."
Judging from the State Palace Theater show performed earlier this summer in New Orleans, the Costello/Attractions partnership still has some life left in it. Taped music from Costello's collaboration with the Brodsky String Quartet rang from the speakers as the band took the stage. With a snarl of "I don't want to kiss you / I don't want to touch you," the group stormed into "No Action" from 1979's This Year's Model album.
'This is one that has a little bit of my life story in it. I'm not going to tell you which bit, though," teased the singer as he launched into a rollicking version of "London's Brilliant Parade" from Brutal Youth.
The show was weighted equally between older favorites and selections from the current release, yet conspicuously jumped over the albums that Costello did without the Attractions. With the exception of the aforementioned "Veronica"" and "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" from Spike, The Attractions stuck to the material that had helped Costello conquer the New Wave market throughout the early 1980s.
Even after years of touring, the timbre and tone of Costello's distinctive delivery echoed through the auditorium with a verve that recalled his younger, angrier days.
"I make sure I get my sleep, I don't talk on the phone, I don't drink, don't smoke — that's the only way to keep it going," said the singer.
"I was having some trouble with the guitars tonight," said the singer, still dripping with sweat after his performance. "I only use single-coil guitars, and we were having a problem with buzzing through the amps. We almost had to cancel the show, but it worked out."
As he started to leave, a question was raised about the initial break between Costello and his band, specifically about the unflattering profile of Costello included in a book written by bassist Bruce Thomas.
"You don't believe everything you read, do you?" he innocently asked. Smiling, he boarded the tour bus for his next stop.