Oregon Live: David Greenwald: 9th July 2015: Photos By Randy L Rasmussen.
"That's the kind of mood we're in tonight!" Elvis Costello said after he and a three-piece band wrapped their fourth song at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Wednesday. The crowd was on its feet, which doesn't happen often at the home of the Oregon Symphony. But Costello had come to rock -- and ballad, and jazz and reggae just a little bit. In a precise two-hour, two-encore set, he played over two dozen songs, the only breaks between many of them the time it took for a guitar tech to trade him his next instrument as the band kept the beat going behind him.
Costello has come a long way from the New Wave agitator he started as nearly 40 years ago, though he still plays the oldies: songs such as "Alison," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and "Accidents Will Happen," among them. But he spent more time roaming through his catalog, less a greatest-hits set than a reminder that he's never stopped making records -- including 2008's "Momofuku," from which he pulled "Flutter and Wow," a ballad that turned urgent. He touched on country twang, reggae groove, New Wave synth silliness and fuzz-rock heroics, a mode he stayed in for much of the night. If you didn't know Costello was a guitar shredder, he made sure to let us in on the secret.
There were moments where he seemed to struggle to play catch-up with the tightly packed wordplay he penned as a young man, and perhaps a flat note or two, but otherwise the decades haven't weakened Costello. His voice remains an instantly pleasing rubber band, stretching syllables and never less than generously emotional. He was at his best on the crescendo-filled "I Still Have That Other Girl," a jazz-pop piece from his Burt Bacharach collaboration, "Painted From Memory" -- a song he hadn't played in two years. "Painted From Memory" was an unusual album for Costello, but it's one of my all-time favorites: intricate and sensitive arrangements, a towering vocal performance from Costello and a rare set of lyrics that address heartbreak with learned maturity. The canon of truly grown-up break-up albums is a small one -- Frank Sinatra's 1970 "Watertown" is another -- and I'm glad Costello hasn't forgotten his lesser-known masterpiece.
He was interested in addressing his collaborations on Wednesday, introducing Professor Longhair's "Ascension Day" with banter about Allen Toussaint, the great New Orleans songwriter he worked with on 2006's "The River in Reverse." Despite a night of guitar chops, he was self-deprecating about it: "I transcribed it for the guitar, leaving out all the difficult chords." He did a Bob Dylan song, too, "Lost on the River" -- the title track from last year's "The New Basement Tapes" tribute album, which found Costello, Jim James, Marcus Mumford and others putting new music to old Dylan lyrics. He closed, as he usually does, with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding," a Nick Lowe song from 1974. Its message hasn't lost a drop of relevance: Costello hasn't, either.