Slick and sharp as ever, Elvis Costello showed his State Theatre audience that at 56 he may be seasoned but to just about everyone’s taste.
In a 90-minute set that ranged over four decades of his cleverly crafted material, Costello and his band The Imposters moved seamlessly from crowd favourites like Every Day I Write The Book and Tear Off Your Head to more recent songs from his Momofuku and National Ransom albums.
Costello, perhaps the most versatile of rock performers, is no stranger to Sydney, having appeared with the Brodsky Quartet in the 2006 Sydney Festival as well as performing with the Sydney Symphony.
But it’s been a while since he’s been seen here with his amazingly tight band - keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas.
Looking dapper in one of his trademark hats and a metallic grey suit, Costello zapped through the first six numbers before throwing a hurried “how are you?” to the audience, changing from a Telecaster to his trademark Jazzmaster and launching into the next medley of hits.
The breakneck pace eventually slowed for his heartrending country-style Either Side Of The Same Town. After that there was some banter with the audience before he settled down to an acoustic session, working his way through a battery of guitars including a Guild which had been given to him for a recording gig in 1978 and hadn’t been out of its case since.
He boasted about the qualities of his tenor guitar before singing Monkey To Man, switching back to a solid body for Beautiful played with a distortion so dirty it was close to disintegration.
Always generous to other musicians, he brought on support act, the wonderful Secret Sisters - Laura and Lydia Rogers from Muscle Shoals, Alabama - to join him for a couple of numbers near the end of the set, including the beautiful A Slow Drag With Josephine and an acoustic rendering of Jimmy Standing In The Rain.
This last song he described as the tale of a vaudevillian who travels the world in a straw hat and a book of poems by Dante and who has “chosen the wrong moment to go into cowboy music”.
Finally the band came back for a farewell 20 minutes with the audience up on its feet and singing and dancing to King of America and Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny) About Peace, Love and Understanding.
This is the only rock concert I know of where the audience came out to the strains of English comedy duo Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise singing Give Me Sunshine. All part of the Costello experience!
Costello, along with the Secret Sisters, is appearing in the Byron Bay blues festival over the Easter weekend.