It’s been 35 years since Elvis Costello released his debut album, My Aim Is True, for Stiff Records, and contemporary tastemakers are still singing its praises. Not that long ago, mega-huge music blog Pitchfork referred to Aim as “the most impressive debut in pop-music history.” In 2003, VH1 proudly dubbed it the 80th greatest album ever made, further proving that good music, quite simply, never goes out of style.
This Sunday, Costello returns to town for a solo set at the Granada Theatre as part of his 2054: The Centenary Show tour. “It’s a lighthearted way of saying that the show can contain anything,” Costello explained recently via phone. “In that respect, it’s really not that different from the Spinning Songbook show, except there’s no big piece of carnival apparatus to make the selections. Instead, I’m making them.”
Costello is, of course, referring to his preferred means of touring with his band The Imposters, whereby he spins a Wheel of Fortune–style wheel of song titles in order to determine the night’s on-the-fly set list. But ask those who caught Costello during his 2010 solo jaunt, and they’ll tell you that, even without the band, Elvis is well worth the price of admission. Why? Because left to his own devices, he will gladly go anywhere.
“I like that feeling of spontaneity, and I wanted to retain it even when I’m playing the solo shows,” he said of the set he’ll bring to Santa Barbara. “I don’t even have to ask anyone’s opinion! I thought, just let some songs select themselves, and they will find their kin amongst my repertoire, if you know what I mean. Over the years, you might return to themes or have two different views of the same subject that were written 20 years apart. I’m letting that be my guide.”
With a career that runs the gamut from pop to jazz to country and stretches over 27 albums, fans can expect pretty much anything from Costello. Of late, the bespectacled and besuited icon has been on a bit of a country kick, recording in Nashville alongside songwriter, producer, and friend T Bone Burnett for 2009’s Secret, Profane & Sugarcane and 2010’s National Ransom. Most recently, though, he’s been touring hard, as well as contributing to wife Diana Krall’s upcoming album, also produced by Burnett.
“T Bone has a feeling for music that’s just so strong,” Costello said. “He never has the arrogance of placing himself between the music and the artist … and that’s at the root of every great record you hear.”
And Costello knows a thing or two about great records. Last time he swung through town, fans were treated to an intimate and lengthy set that ran the gamut of his musical accomplishments — from “Watching the Detectives,” “Veronica,” and “So Like Candy” to a selection of My Aim Is True highlights. Instrumentally, Costello’s prowess is no less impressive. Armed with an arsenal of guitars, he can not only fill a room but also create a backdrop worthy of his lyrical compositions.
“We’re doing a good deal of pretty well-known songs,” Costello emphasized, “but after a number of years, you don’t want to presume that’s all people want to hear from you. Emboldened by those totally random shows, I feel like there is a lot of music to be played, and I don’t think anyone will walk away feeling cheated.”
Add to that the pristine acoustics and stunning beauty of the Granada Theatre, and you’ve got a night that’s, well, right on target.
UCSB’s Arts & Lectures presents Elvis Costello at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Sunday, September 30, at 7 p.m. Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu for tickets and info.