Review of concert from 1999-10-12: Louisville, KY, Louisville Palace
Courier-Journal (Louisville), 1999-10-13
- Jeffrey Lee Puckett


Elvis Costello
Stunning performance proves Costello's greatness

By JEFFREY LEE PUCKETT The Courier-Journal
Reviewed Oct. 13, 1999

If there were any doubts that Elvis Costello is among the finest songwriters in rock 'n' roll history, he erased them all last night with a stunning performance at the Louisville Palace.

During a two-hour set that covered his 22-year career, Costello lobbed one jaw-dropper after another into a grateful crowd. Acknowledged classics ("Alison," "Accidents Will Happen," "Watching the Detectives") and fan favorites ("Blue Chair," "Inches and Inches," [Inch By Inch] "Little Triggers") collided in a beautiful mess of Elvis. It was a real piece of work.

Performing only with keyboardist Steve Nieve, Costello had to strip down and rearrange many songs but he easily retained their emotional integrity. Maybe that's easy with songs this iron-clad. Is it even possible to screw up "Man Out of Time"? Probably not.

Without a band to hide mistakes, the pressure was on. Costello has become a fine guitarist and Nieve, who has been with Costello off and on for more than 20 years, was a joy, adding quiet support in some places and dropping bombs in others. At times you forgot he was there, a tribute to his taste and restraint.

Then again, Costello was often so riveting that you forgot anyone else was there; the guy has presence to burn, and his command of the stage was total. The occasional flashes of anger were expected — it's how we remember him first and most often — but the goofy humor and theatricality were welcome surprises.

And his singing rocked. Elvis doesn't have pipes like The King, but he achieves a kind of greatness almost through sheer force of will. On ballads such as "What's Her Name Today," "All This Useless Beauty" and "I Still Have That Other Girl," his intensity and sense of urgency was astounding. The familiar Costello sneer showed up, too, giving "I Want You" a serious edge.

Costello's microphone technique was also impressive, borrowing from great, booming crooners such as Tony Bennett. He would often ease away from the mike several feet, relying on the power of his voice. At one point, during "Alison," he stepped completely aside and, in a very Bennett move, finished the song sans microphone. Sweet.

Costello was generous, giving four encores. Still, dozens of requests went unanswered, but there was little to argue over; any show that includes "God's Comic," "Almost Blue," "Everyday I Write the Book," "I Want You" and "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" in a single encore is a show that resists complaint.

And a new song called "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter" was better than, or at least equal to, several standards. Cowritten with Carole King, the song's grinning vitriol proved that Costello isn't likely to start a perpetual nostalgia tour anytime soon. He still has teeth, and he will bite.