In much the same way that Elvis "the Pelvis" Presley set the standard for rock 'n' roll bravado, Elvis Costello set the standard for evocative songwriting and overall musicianship. And as he always has in his decades-long career, he just keeps raising the bar.
With 1977's debut of My Aim Is True, the Buddy Holly look-alike's cynicism and raw emotion allowed him to ride the wave of the punk rock revolution. But he then went on to survive the '80s and '90s with style (thanks in part to the super-tight Attractions, his phenomenal backup band), and he continues to age gracefully in an industry not exactly known for its grace. Now, at age 50, he is still stretching himself creatively, performing and recording like mad, winning Grammy nominations -- most recently for his cover of Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave"-- and embarking on musical projects that would seem laughable from a similar aging musician (Bono, anyone?).
Costello, an intensely private person, has given only about a dozen interviews over the course of his 25-year career, which may be due in part to an attempt to not have to explain his achingly personal lyrics, ranging from wounded to wistful to witty. But though his lyrics are poignant, his inimitable delivery is the force that moves the emotion to a deeper place.
Costello has always been self-determined, and very inner-directed. Born Declan MacManus, his stage name embodies the self-possessed behavior that has guided him through a career that has won critical praise, but seldom garnered mainstream success.
But Costello has no problem with that. In a rare 2004 interview with the UK Sunday Review, he summed it all up: "I don't give a f*** about being a rock 'n' roll star. I just want to do the things that interest me."
Lucky for us, the things that interest Elvis Costello are interesting.
While other songwriters have tended to stay inside their comfort zones and genres (or have scurried back to their categories after woeful forays into other projects), Costello's songbook is a smorgasbord of styles, and his collaborations are just as varied. He has collaborated with legendary crooner Burt Bacharach, with jazz greats in the Charles Mingus Orchestra and with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie Von Otter. His newest collaboration is with his wife, Diana Krall. Her 2004 release, The Girl in the Other Room, includes six of the pair's songs.
Costello's first piece for symphony orchestra, Il Sogno, a 200-page score accompanying Aterballeto's ballet production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, premiered at Lincoln Center for his 50th birthday. In 2004, Deutsche Grammophon released a recording of the London Philharmonic performing Il Sogno.
In his latest studio album, The Delivery Man, also released in 2004, Costello explores the gritty sound of the American South with elements of soul, blues and old country. Crooners Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris put in guest appearances.
Costello and the Imposters will be appearing at Denver's Fillmore with up-and-coming 27-year-old singer-songwriter Tift Merritt, who intriguingly counts writer Eudora Welty as much of an influence as Bob Dylan.
-- Bettina Swigger
Elvis Costello and the Imposters
The Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson St., Denver
Saturday, March 19, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $35 general admission; go to www.fillmoreauditorium.com or call 520-9090.