Review of concert at 1999-06-22: Cleveland, OH, Nautica Stage
Cleveland Live, 1999-06-23
- John Soeder


Costello rides new wave of mellowness

Wednesday, June 23, 1999


Elvis Costello has left the building.

Long gone is the new-wave rocker who came off like an acid-tongued Buddy Holly armed with a thesaurus when he released his debut album, "My Aim Is True," in 1977. This year's model - a kinder, gentler Costello - was on display last night at Nautica Stage in the Flats.

The British singer-songwriter, 44, was in fine form as he delivered an impressive sampling of material from his latest effort, "Painted from Memory," a collaboration with old-school hitmaker Burt Bacharach. There were plenty of blasts from the past, too.

This was a sophisticated, stripped-down affair. Costello frequently strummed an acoustic guitar while he sang. Steve Nieve, formerly of Costello's band, the Attractions, played grand piano and keyboards.

They got off to a strong start with several lesser-known gems from Costello's catalog, including "Girls Talk," "Man Out of Time," "Talking in the Dark" and "Brilliant Mistake."

"It's good to be back. You're just as beautiful as we remember," Costello told the crowd of 2,500 fans. Sporting a black suit, black shirt, black shoes and black-rimmed glasses, he would not have looked out of place behind the wheel of a hearse.

An early highlight of the 21/2-hour show was a dramatic rendition of "Toledo" from "Painted from Memory." Costello belted out the cautionary tale about infidelity with gusto. At the end of the song, a freighter passing behind the stage on the Cuyahoga River blew its horn. "Did they like it on the boat?" Costello asked without missing a beat.

Among the other Bacharach-Costello compositions that stood out were "What's Her Name Today?" and "This House Is Empty Now." The set also included a cover of the Bacharach-Hal David chestnut "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," which Costello performs in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me."

Accompanied only by Nieve's exquisitely rippling piano, Costello crooned "Temptation" with one hand in his pocket and the other in the air, gesticulating smoothly. Frank Sinatra would have been proud.

Much of the material had an easy-listening vibe, but Costello and Nieve were no lounge act. They cut loose on several occasions. The rockabilly-flavored "Uncomplicated" rode a Bo Diddley groove and "Less than Zero" ended with Costello engaging in a lively call-and-response with the audience. Mellower but similarly memorable was the lovely "Every Day I Write the Book."

In the middle of the concert, Nieve left the stage while Costello ran through unplugged solo versions of "Pads, Paws and Claws," "Mystery Dance," "Indoor Fireworks," and a sublime "Radio Sweetheart" that worked in a few bars of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said."

A jazzy, finger-snapping rendition of "Inch by Inch" (complete with a snippet of Peggy Lee's "Fever") kicked off the encores. Then the floodgates opened and the crowd-pleasers kept coming: "Watching the Detectives," "(What's So Funny "Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Veronica," "Oliver's Army," "Accidents Will Happen," "Pump It Up," "(Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and the beautiful "God Give Me Strength."

Unlike a lot of artists of his generation who are content to coast on nostalgia, Costello continues to challenge himself and his fans. Last night, the payoff was an unforgettable show.

1999 Cleveland Live. All rights reserved.