Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe at Wolf Trap

In between, he’d fit in songs from this century that few seemed very familiar with, such as “Hetty O’Hara’s Confidential” and “Either Side of the Same Town.”

The band may have been overly loud with a jarring mix; and Costello’s voice was a bit ragged (especially coming after the smooth tones of Lowe’s mellower approach). Early on, he sang low when he used to go high on “Accidents Will Happen.” 

He came with some mighty talents from the original Attractions, Steve Nieve on keyboards and heavy-hitting Pete Thomas on drums; Davey Farager, an American who has been part of the band for 20 years, held down bass. Together they are now called the Imposters.

But with Costello himself doing fewer of the guitar leads, he added to the group the Texas journeyman Charlie Sexton, who has played with a number of artists, including Bob Dylan for a three year stint. 

While Sexton could be counted on for an assured blues fill here and there, he often didn’t have the sting of Costello’s original recordings. 

Things may have reached its most challenging point during a nine minute version of “Watching the Detectives” that took forays to the Charles Mingus collaboration “Invisible Lady” and the 2018 ballad “Isabelle in Tears.”

Costello was bolstered by the backing vocals of New Jersey’s Nicole Atkins (recently in town on her own headlining tour) stepping up to duet on the new “My Most Beautiful Mistake” and on “Still Too Soon to Know” one of a couple of songs from  1994’s “Brutal Youth” (the other being the driving “Just About Glad”)

He found his footing in the second half of his show, doing assured performances of other songs from his 2022 “The Boy Named If.” He did five altogether, including “The Man You Love to Hate,” “Penelope Halfpenny” and the terrific “Magnificent Hurt.” At last, here were songs that suited his voice, that the band knew and could infuse with freshness and were introduced with some charm.

Costello suffers from being a bit too prolific — he’s written some 654 songs according to a recent count — and is forced by marketplace demands to go back and forth in concert between his earliest ravers everybody knows and the newest songs few know. Missing are a vast number of works from in between — of his masterful “Imperial Bedroom” days, more from “King of America,” or work with greats from Burt Bacharach and Allen Toussaint to Paul McCartney. 

At least his work with Lowe over the year was featured in grand style.

Lowe at 73 seemed at the top of his game if only because his set was so much shorter. His backing by the American instrumental surf rockers Los Straightjackets seemed an odd marriage when they first got together a few years back. By now, though, they are most simpatico, giving a boost to Lowe’s own classics from “So It Goes” to “Cruel to Be Kind,” while adding tasteful backing to his more mature offerings, from “Without Love” and the throbbing ballad “You Inspire Me.”

Lowe left the stage to the Straightjackets in their Mexican wrestling masks so he could change into another crisp shirt and allow them to rock through their originals “Katanga!” and “University Blvd.,” written about a nearby Beltway exit (guitarist Eddie Angel was once part of the D.C. rockabilly band scene). It gave a momentary local flavor to an evening otherwise given to English pop specialists. 

The setlist for Elvis Costello & The Imposters was:

  • “Accidents Will Happen”
  • “Green Shirt”
  • “Either Side of the Same Town”
  • “Hetty O’Hara Confidential”
  • “Mystery Dance”
  • “Watching the Detectives / Invisible Lady / Isabelle in Tears” 
  • “My Most Beautiful Mistake”
  • “Still Too Soon to Know”
  • “Just About Glad”
  • “The Man You Love to Hate”
  • “Penelope Halfpenny”
  • “What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?”
  • “Magnificent Hurt”
  • “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea”
  • “Pump It Up”
  • “Indoor Fireworks”
  • “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”

The setlist for Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets was: 

  • “So It Goes”
  • “Ragin’ Eyes”
  • “Without Love”
  • “You Inspire Me”
  • “I Live on a Battlefield”
  • “Tokyo Bay”
  • “Katanga!”
  • “University Blvd.” 
  • “Trombone”
  • “Half a Boy and Half a Man”
  • “Cruel to Be Kind”
  • “When I Write the Book”
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