Costello provides his own thunder at rain-soaked Jazz Festival

Ottawa Citizen: Lynn Saxberg: 24th June, 2011

Ottawa — Singer-songwriter Elvis Costello bounded on to the stage of the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival and lit into what was probably the most rocking concert ever witnessed at the venerable festival.

Instead of relying on a wheel-driven game of chance to determine the song selection, a gimmick he's been using in other cities on his current tour, Costello played whatever the heck he wanted, and seemed to take the opportunity to let loose. There was a setlist, but he didn't follow it very closely.

Looking trim in a dapper suit and sporting his trademark fedora and thick-rimmed glasses, the 56-year-old Brit kicked things off with a high-octane version of Pump It Up, which immediately commanded the attention of the small but enthusiastic crowd. A torrential downpour earlier in the evening kept many fans away, although the weather cleared in time for Costello's headlining performance, and he started right on time.

"Lovely weather we're having," he commented at one point, "(but) having spent the last six years living in British Columbia, this is a sunny day to us."

The former Declan MacManus was a ball of energy during the entire show, putting his band through their paces early on a taut and speedy Heart of the City before careening back to the mid-70s nugget, Mystery Dance. His band, the Imposters, which consisted of keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher, was fantastic, effortlessly keeping up with the pace set by their boss.

Costello delivered a show that will be remembered by the 2,500 or so who braved the cool, damp conditions. His voice sounded great and he was a charming frontman, showing little of his famous curmudgeonly streak. The crowd-pleasing performance ended on a high that included a string of familiar songs re-energized by the chemistry of the band. From Watching The Detectives and Alison to Honey Are You Straight? Red Shoes, I Can't Stand Up, High Fidelity, a surprising but fun cover of the Stones song, Out of Time, and Costello's anthem, Peace Love and Understanding, the mood was one of elation as the crowd bopped along.

Costello handled the guitar work, both electric and acoustic, on his own, turning in the sharp, tasty licks that add so much to his music, while keyboardist Nieve was responsible for filling in the spaces with inventive passages that roamed from straightforward piano to outer space and back.

They charged through Strict Time and Clown Strike early on, and then slowed the tempo in the middle for a nice, torchy version of Almost Blue, the title track from Costello's 1981 album with the Attractions. Costello hammed it up for the on-stage video camera, planting a big kiss on the lens. Another ballad highlight was the old-timey A Slow Drag With Josephine, from last year's album, National Ransom.