Elvis Costello has been looking backward lately. "How have you been?" he asked the audience Thursday night at Pier 17, an outdoor rooftop venue in downtown Manhattan. "Maybe I should say: Where have you been?"

The singer-songwriter returned to live playing almost a year ago, but his current tour showcases songs from The Boy Named If, an album of punchy rock 'n' roll recorded with the Imposters and released earlier this year.

Nostalgia isn't an accurate description of what Costello is doing now. He isn't pining for the good old days; instead, he's revisiting the people, places and events that brought him to where he is today.

His opening act at Thursday's show was Nick Lowe, who produced Costello's first five albums, from 1977's My Aim Is True through 1981’s Trust. He also wrote "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," which Costello recorded in 1979 but Lowe first performed in 1974 with the band Brinsley Schwarz. Lowe and Costello also performed "Indoor Fireworks" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," marking the first time the duo has performed together on the road since 1989. "We really looked up to Nick Lowe, but he is a lot taller than me," Costello joked onstage.

Also in attendance was Allan Mayes, who played with Costello in their first, teenage band, Rusty. Their recently released debut album, The Resurrection of Rust, has put Mayes, who now lives in Texas, in the spotlight after a relatively low profile over the past several decades. They performed on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon earlier this week.

Costello was backed by his band the Imposters, which includes former Attractions Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums, along with bassist Davey Faragher. Charlie Sexton on guitar, a regular member of Bob Dylan's band, also joined Costello onstage.

He also brought Nicole Atkins, who sings on The Boy Named If, to help out on a few songs Thursday night. Costello didn't stray far from original arrangements of songs like "Accidents Will Happen" and "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," but with Lowe, Mayes and Atkins assisting, there was a freshness to the set. (You can see the set list from the show below.)

Still, there is some unpredictability to his concerts. Earlier this week in Buffalo, he slipped into "Alison" a snippet of the Motown song "This Old Heart of Mine," which was co-written by Lamont Dozier, who died the day before. On Thursday, he combined "Watching the Detectives" with Charles Mingus' "Invisible Lady." (Costello wrote words to Mingus' music for the 2002 album Tonight at Noon: Three of Four Shades of Love.)

Costello intends to keep the surprises coming in 2023. On his Tonight Show appearance, he announced a 10-date run at New York City's Gramercy Theatre scheduled for February that will include different songs at each performance: "200 songs over 10 nights," he said.

He may be revisiting the past on his current tour, but, as always, he's looking to the future.

Elvis Costello, 8/11/22, the Rooftop at Pier 17, New York City
1. "Accidents Will Happen"
2. "Green Shirt"
3. "Either Side of the Same Town"
4. "Hetty O'Hara Confidential"
5. "Mystery Dance"
6. "Watching the Detectives" / "Invisible Lady"
7. "You Belong to Me" (with Nicole Atkins)
8. "My Most Beautiful Mistake" (with Nicole Atkins)
9. "Still Too Soon to Know" (with Nicole Atkins)
10. "Penelope Halfpenny"
11. "What if I Can't Give You Anything but Love?"
12. "I'm Ahead If I Can Quit While I'm Behind" (With Allan Mayes - RUSTY)
13. "Surrender to the Rhythm" (With Allan Mayes - Rusty)
14. "Indoor Fireworks"
15. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" (with Nick Lowe)
16. "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea"
17. "Magnificent Hurt"
18. "Pump It Up"
19. "Alison"

Elvis Costello Albums Ranked

Even with a career spanning more than four decades, many collaborators and several record labels, his discography has had way more hits than misses.

More From Classic Rock Q107