Though he's performed here in recent years in a couple different settings, Elvis Costello stripped things down for a solo performance at the Riverside Tuesday night.
The show was the second night of Costello's "The Last Year of My Youth" solo tour, which wraps up with a pair of nights at no less than Carnegie Hall in New York.
Across more than two hours -- including two encores -- Costello played an eclectic and unexpected mix of material spanning his nearly 40-year recording career.
Given Costello's penchant for trying new things across that career -- from country to chamber music to film scores to a range of interesting collaborations -- the unexpected really is what we expect from Costello.
But if you hoped Costello would reprise the hits during his nearly 30-song performance, you might have been (mostly) disappointed. Though he played "Veronica," "Alison" and "Watching the Detectives," his song selection had a quirkier quality.
Opening with a strong reading of "Jack of All Parades" from 1986's "King of America," he later added a rapid-fire -- and somewhat less satisfying -- version of "Brilliant Mistake," which opened that record and "Suit of Lights."
With at least 29 records to his name -- if you exclude compilations and depending on whether or not you choose to exclude certain things like film scores -- it's safe to say that unless he played one song from each, some career moments would be elided.┬á
But Costello included at least one track from each of the records from the earliest years of his career -- except the country covers disc, "Almost Blue" and, curiously, his second disc, "This Year's Model."
He played "Mystery Dance," "Red Shoes" and "Alison" from his 1977 debut, "My Aim Is True." He played "Green Shirt" from 1979's "Armed Forces," "Motel Matches" from the landmark "Get Happy!!!" and "Clubland" from "Trust."┬á
"Kid About It" and "Beyond Belief" represented "Imperial Bedroom" and he chose the unexpected "Deportee" from 1984's "Goodbye Cruel World."
After that, he dipped in and out of the catalog. He skipped "Blood & Chocolate" and "Mighty Like A Rose" entirely, and played only "Veronica," from "Spike."┬á
Three tunes from his latest record, "Wise Up Ghost," a collaboration with The Roots, made the cut: "Come the Meantimes," "Cinco Minutos Con Vos" and "The Puppet Has Cut His Strings."
Two were plucked from 2010's "National Ransom": "Slow Drag with Josephine" and "Jimmie Standing in the Rain," about his grandfather, a professional trumpet player.
Some moments, Costello sat -- and in his suit and hat, with one leg crossed over the other, he cut a Leon Redbone-like figure, especially when he performed the 1930's Roy Turk ditty, "Walking My Baby Back Home."
Though he started off the night saying little, simply stalking out to the edge of the stage like a tiger, and giving the crowd an almost challenging gaze, Costello's humor soon emerged and he became chatty, talking about his family's musical background and how it affected his music and his songs.
He also talked about his performances in Milwaukee, especially recalling -- as many do -- the winter visits.
For a couple tunes -- most notably "Shipbuilding" -- Costello perched on a stool at an electric keyboard, but mostly, he stood center stage with an acoustic guitar (on only a couple occasions a hollow-body electric) and owned every moment.
He saluted singer/songwriter Jesse Winchester, who died in April, with a pair of tunes: "Payday" -- which he joined with "Mystery Dance" in a medley -- and "Quiet About It."
Though some will quibble with the song choice, most die-hard fans rejoiced at the chance to hear Costello play things like "Ghost Train" and "Radio Soul," a prototype that later became "Radio Radio."
He didn't play any of the things I'd had on my wish list, but hearing the unexpected "Jack of All Parades" and "Motel Matches" surely went a long way toward making up for it.
In the end, the performance reminded us not only of Costello's place in history as a prime mover in late '70s British rock and roll (call it punk, call it new wave, whatever), but that Elvis is without a doubt the most adventurous, most talented songwriter of his generation.
Here is the set list of the show (to the best of my ability)...
Jack of All Parades
Either Side of the Same Town
Quiet About It
Come the Meantimes
Walking My Baby Back Home
Kid About It
Watching the Detectives
Suit of Lights
Slow Drag With Josephine
Jimmie Standing in the Rain
Cincos Minutos Con Vos
The Puppet Has Cut His Strings
The Last Year of My Youth
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
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