Review of concert 1999-06-22: Cleveland, OH, Nautica Stage
Free Times, 1999-06-30
- Franklin Soults


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Elvis Costello
Tuesday, June 22

In the extensive liner notes to Extreme Honey: The Very Best of the Warner Brothers Years (1997), Elvis Costello provides a running commentary detailing a stupefying succession of world-wide tours taking up the better part of the ’90s. It quickly became obvious at last Tuesday’s Nautica concert that this weird life lived on stage has come to suit Costello and that he was enjoying himself as much this evening as the full, adoring audience — most of whom looked old enough to have started following the modern rock icon long before he began those years at Warner Brothers in 1989.

Even heard from the far side of a parking lot as we tardily made our way up to the riverfront venue, the clarity of his opening number, "Girls Talk," was arresting — it was a far more nuanced performance than he delivered on the original obscure B-side way back in 1980. If memory served, he also didn’t sound nearly so controlled or crisp a dozen years ago when I caught a three-night appearance in Chicago on the cusp of his King of America/Blood and Chocolate tour, a forced, overly-ornate extravaganza that made me write off the immensely talented singer-songwriter as an obsessively self-involved twit.

Despite his newfound vocal command, therefore, I didn’t consider the prospect of an acoustic evening with Elvis Costello and Friend necessarily promising. Early on, his telling delivery of the key line to one of those King of America numbers — "I was a fine idea at the time/Now I’m a brilliant mistake"— only increased my foreboding. Yet with tenderness, humor and flashes of raw passion, Costello and his longtime pianist Steve Nieve casually laid out an oeuvre as wide and deep as that of any pop artist under 50, touching on everything from his delicate and abstruse "classic pop" with Burt Bacharach to his punchy and abstruse classic new wave with the Attractions as the amazing two-and-a-half-hour show just kept unfolding. For the last half-hour, every song could have served as a closer — "Veronica" (technically his biggest hit), "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "God Give Me Strength" (the closing number on his most recent album) — yet he saved it for a lovely, mournful song no one recognized about a son’s memory of his parents. Turning off both his and Nieve’s amplification and singing without a guitar from the lip of the stage to the perfectly hushed crowd, he was as naked as a newborn, and dressed to kill. — Franklin Soults

Copyright 1999 Hummingbird Press