Elvis Costello played a set spanning his 40+-year career at the Masonic on Saturday. [Leslie Katz/S.F. Examiner]

Elvis Costello looks now and then with panache

On Saturday in concert at San Francisco’s Masonic, Elvis Costello didn’t look like someone who canceled tour dates this year due to health issues or someone who publicly pondered whether he ever would make more recordings.

With his 21st century band The Imposters (longtime cohorts Steve Nieve on piano, Pete Thomas on drums and Davey Faragher on bass and vocals) and soulful backup vocalists Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee, Costello, 64, dynamically surveyed four decades of his music in a nearly three-hour show, the last California date on his “Look Now and Then” tour.

Music from “Look Now,” Costello’s well-received 2018 album with The Imposters, stood up well with songs from his 1977 angry rock debut: “Watching the Detectives,” “Mystery Dance” and “Alison” from “My Aim Is True.”

While the new tunes display Costello’s classic storytelling and complicated and evocative wordplay, their “uptown pop” musical style reflects appealing collaborations with Carole King (“Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter”) and Burt Bacharach (“Photographs Can’t Lie,” “Don’t Look Now,” “He’s Given Me Things” all were somewhat reminiscent of their material from the pair’s moody, masterful album “Painted From Memory”).

On the other hand, Costello really rocked too, taking uncharacteristically long guitar, showy solos on “Clubland” and “Watching the Detectives.” And he pulled out a 1952 Telecaster, as well.

Yet piano was emphasized in “Unwanted Number.” And on “Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror,” Elvis really pounded out the vocals.

The main set ended with the perennial “Alison” and a lengthy version of the radio-ready “Every Day I Write the Book,” with fun contributions from the ladies on backup vocals joining him front and center stage, behind old-fashioned, stand-up mics.

(The setup looked like something perhaps from the life of his late father, Ross MacManus; Costello goes into loving detail about his dad’s career as a dancehall musician and singer in his jam-packed 2015 autobiography “Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink.”)

Nieve gave up his spot at the piano for Costello, who donned a hat after coming back to the stage for a long, 10-tune encore – if one could call it that – and sang a soulful “Accidents Will Happen.”

Things revved up again with a rousing “Pump It Up” and concluded with “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace Love and Understanding.”

Not unlike his amusing Spectacular Spinning Songbook concerts, which through the years have offered the chance hear most tunes from his extensive catalog, 2018’s “Look Now and Then” tour satisfyingly covers the rock elements of Costello’s varied career.

But the novelty of the randomness has been replaced with wisdom and composure that come with age, experience — and having a cancerous malignancy removed from one’s body.
Davey FaragherElvis CostelloImpostersLook NowPete ThomasPop MusicSteve NieveThen and Now

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