Elvis Costello & the Austin Symphony Orchestra

Live Shot

Phases and Stages
Photo By John Anderson

Elvis Costello & the Austin Symphony Orchestra

Bass Concert Hall, April 11

Rock & roll, the currency of eternal youth, queues up fashionably late by design. It can't and won't be held in check. Which is why UT's grand sitting room of classical acoustics was still half-empty at 8:02pm when Elvis Costello strode briskly onstage to introduce the already-seated Austin Symphony Orchestra. "This is just a little bit of a change from the Armadillo World Headquarters," grinned the main Attraction. So was Il Sogno, Costello's "ballet after Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream" from 2004. Conductor Alan Broadbent breezed the ASO through the piece, an airy co-mingling of Eastern European classical, Broadway, and uptown swing, and by its conclusion 30 minutes later, the Hall had filled in, a preponderance of sunglasses sitting atop nodding heads. "Wake Me Up," a song from Costello's forthcoming collaboration with New Orleans piano savant Allen Toussaint, did nothing less, with its composer abusing an acoustic guitar and sneering through verse after verse of post-millennial angst. "Thank you," he exclaimed, mopping his brow. "I feel better." Costello's workout continued on "All This Useless Beauty," which, by concert's end, ultimately distinguished itself as the epicenter of this rocker's classical dabblings. Singing like a love-drunk coyote, quivering, left leg stamping, Costello left no corner of his jester voice unexplored, reaching full range of expression as the song worked itself through his body physically. "The Birds Will Still Be Singing," which closes Costello's newly reissued concord with the Brodsky Quartet, The Juliet Letters, and ended the first set here, proved the perfect contrast next: a ramshackle tune suited neither to rock, strings, nor the meeting thereof. No further proof was needed that Costello is no supper-club act. The balance of the show's second half reiterated the point in an engaging but mild trainwreck fashion despite tributes to Charles Brown, Billy Strayhorn, and Charles Aznavour, and a stridently acoustic "Veronica" and successfully re-envisioned "Watching the Detectives." Middle encore "Alison" was Mozart for the pop-music beautiful. Not one rocker will begrudge Costello's restless reinvention, so if his aim isn't always true, God bless him for remaining one of rock & roll's most passionate marksmen.

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