Review of concert from 1999-10-09: Kansas City, MO, Midland Theatre
Kansas City Star, 1999-10-10
- Timothy Finn


Melodic tunes charm longtime Costello enthusiasts

By TIMOTHY FINN - The Kansas City Star
Date: 10/10/99 00:01

Stripped of their rock arrangements and their singer's unrequited anger, the early songs of Elvis Costello bare their primal strengths: sweet, irregular melodies; and scabrous, uptown prose.

Saturday night, he and his brilliant accompanist, Steve Nieve (pronounced "naive"), took on Costello's prodigious body of work with but a grand piano, keyboards and a few guitars at their disposal -- a big risk, when you consider the post-punk nature of his greatest tunes.

But a good song is a good song, whether there's a drummer in the house or not, so the pair had no trouble spinning most of Costello's material into lush chamber pop tunes.

The show, which exceeded two hours, comprised more than 30 songs (about half of those were encores) and touched upon nearly every stage of Costello's career: from "My Aim Is True," now 23 years old, to last year's "Painted From Memory," his collaboration with Burt Bacharach.

There were plenty of sterling moments: the complete rearrangement of "Temptation"; the cover of Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"; the fusion of Costello's "Radio Sweetheart" with Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said"; and true renditions of favorites like "Accidents Will Happen" and "Everyday I Write the Book."

His work with Bacharach has given Costello's burlap voice some useful beauty, and that polish came in handy several times. "Almost Blue" never sounded lonelier and "Alison" never sounded lovelier than they did Saturday night. And he nearly stopped the show with his second song, the sweet and luscious "Man Out of Time."

Not every song adapted to the austerity. "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" lost too much of its rhythmic punch, and the last half of "Watching the Detectives" was barely recognizable thanks to Costello's heavy guitar work (which sounded like Link Wray practicing arpeggios).

Costello, 45, made a few cracks about his age and the arc of his career, which is about to enter its fourth decade. But Saturday's crowd, which lavished him with applause, was predominantly his peer group: people who were in their teens and 20s back in the late 1970s, when he brought a skewed energy and ethic into the punk/new wave scene.

He's no longer that sneering, angry young man in geeky glasses, but Costello hasn't lost that ethic -- thus the crack about evolution in "God's Comic" -- or his willingness to take risks (thus his closing tune, performed without microphones).

To reach Timothy Finn, pop music writer, call (816) 234-4781 or e-mail him at

All content 1999 The Kansas City Star