BOSTON — I am so happy to report that rumors that Elvis Costello is dying have been greatly exaggerated.
Despite scrapping the remainder of his European summer tour after undergoing surgery for a "small but very aggressive cancerous malignancy" and a last-minute cancelling in Connecticut due to a "short-term throat infection" the night before playing Boston, Costello proved that his latest health scare was nothing for fans to worry about and he is far from being "a man out of time."
In fact, the 64-year-old Costello was the life of the party and, at times, the belle of the ball Saturday night at the Boch Center Wang Theatre.
Combining the best of his old catalog with 10 tracks from his stellar new album Look Now (which a majority of the songs are sung from a female character's point of view), Costello's Boston stop on his "Look Now and Then Tour" was made up of an uncompromising, two-hour-and-a-half, 26 song-set, which culminating with a jaw-dropping nine-song encore.
While I confess that it took me several listens before I warmed up to Look Now, after Saturday night, I am totally convinced that it's another Costello masterwork that sounds better live.
Opening with "This Year's Girl" (from 1978's This Year's Model) and ending with "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" (from 1979's Armed Forces), Costello delivered 40 years of gems that still sound as smart and catchy as they did when he first burst onto the music scene.
Early in the set, Costello burned off several tracks from his latest, including "Don't Look Now" and "Photographs Can Lie," which he co-wrote with Burt Bacharach. On the latter, Costello masterfully wove Bacharach's "The Look of Love" (made famous by Dusty Springfield) into his nocturnal musings of a young woman coming to terms with the dirty dealings of her two-timing dad.
In addition to showing off his sly sophistication and sardonic wit to great effect, Costello showed his strong kinship to Boston and punk rock, by giving a shout-out to any Elvis devotees in the audience who saw him at the Paradise and/or the Orpheum when he was still New Wave's premiere angry young man and the aging crowd was much younger.
During an amusing spontaneous exchange tailored-made for the Boston crowd, Costello said his band doesn't know any songs by the Cars but they know a couple of songs from Boston punk legends The Real Kids.
As for his backing band, The Imposters (featuring drummer Peter Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve and bassist Davey Faragher), are the real deal. Whether Costello was wailing on a guitar or crooning behind a vintage mike, The Imposters consistently kept things moving while wonderfully fleshing out all Elvis' eccentric musical ventures.
And, while Costello sang in fine voice throughout, the added enhancement of backing vocalists Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee brought sass, brass and soul to the proceedings, especially during "Alison" and "Everyday I Write The Book."
When he wasn't hawking the new album or treating the audience to a deep album cut like "Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?" "I Wear It Proudly" or "American Gangster Time," Costello was pumping out classic gems (including "Green Shirt," "Temptation," "Watching the Detectives," "Accidents Will Happen," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and, of course, the prerequisite "Pump It Up.")
Costello, one of the few artists who is as compelling setting up a narrative to a song as he is singing a song, was in rare form.
Whether it's a lousy decision we have made, a lover that we have lost who haunts us or a would-be lover who we wish would find us, Costello masterfully examined those things that have a stranglehold on one's heart, one's soul and even one's existence with an unguarded intimacy and unnerving candor in numbers that included "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," "He's Given Me Things" and, arguably the evening's standout, "I Want You."
"I Want You," from 1986's Blood & Chocolate, was truly epic. In the guise of a lover scorned, Costello was mesmerizing and menacing as his confessions of desire and inability to let go turned dark and twisted.