Concert Review: Elvis Costello in Oakland, CA
by Jim Harrington
March 23, 2005 12:48 PM - It's a good thing that Elvis Costello's fans don't ask as much from him as he demands of them. Starting with 1981's "Almost Blue," the musical chameleon born Declan Patrick McManus has constantly challenged listeners by changing his colors at a pace that makes David Bowie and Madonna look like sticks in the mud. The fans have accepted everything, regardless of style or quality. That includes 1993's curious long-form collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet, "The Juliet Letters," and 1998's overrated collaboration with pop-icon Burt Bacharach, "Painted from Memory."
And that also has included some truly mediocre concert performances over the past 15 years. Unfortunately, his March 22 appearance at the ornate Paramount Theatre in Oakland definitely ranks among the more lackluster showings.
Costello's voice was strong and his guitar playing was solid. His backing band, The Imposters, did its job. But the pacing was slow and the song selection left much to be desired. The singer drew heavily from 2004's "The Delivery Man," his best album in many a moon, but the fashion in which he did completely sapped the material of the narrative thread that gives the song cycle its power on CD.
Dressed in a dark suit and a snazzy green tie, Costello stayed a ballpark away from the hits that have made him rich in favor of "Delivery Man" material and less-familiar older cuts like "Uncomplicated" during the first hour of the show. That's fine. Elvis is the man, so he can play whatever he wants. However, the initial batch of songs was almost completely devoid of the punchy choruses and big hooks that have fueled his best work, and the sleepy crowd reacted accordingly.
New tracks like "Needle Time" and "Country Darkness" barely registered with the audience, and by the time he finally hit "Watching the Detectives"--roughly 80 minutes into the show--it was basically too late to save the evening.
That's not to say that the wrap up wasn't enjoyable, driven by Steve Nieve's killer Jerry Lee Lewis-style piano runs through such favorites as "Mystery Dance," "Pump It Up" and, of course, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?'"
However, it was way too little, way too late. In all, it was an evening when "The Delivery Man" didn't deliver.