Review of concert from 1999-10-25: New York City, NY, Beacon Theatre
NY Observer, 1999-11-01

- Jim Windolf


Elvis Costello, the Beacon Boy

Elvis Costello was the hardest-working man in show business at the Beacon Theater on Oct. 25. He played 35 songs in two and a half hours, including four new (unrecorded) ones and a cover of Van Morrison’s "Jackie Wilson Said."

Mr. Costello’s thick, rough baritone was in great shape all night, from when he started, with the scorching, rhythmic "Alibi Factory" (a new one), to the end, when he stood at the lip of the stage, without microphone, and belted out "Couldn’t Call It Unexpected No. 4," his most hopeful ballad.

Last year, Mr. Costello played Radio City Music Hall with Burt Bacharach and an orchestra in support of the Bacharach-Costello album Painted From Memory. This time, it was just Mr. Costello and his longtime pianist Steve Nieve, with Greg Cohen joining in on standup bass for crisp versions of "Almost Blue," "Painted From Memory" and a new rocker, "45," which told the story of Mr. Costello’s 45 years in roughly three minutes.

Mr. Costello brought his special brand of emotional intensity to "I Want You," his grand, disturbing ballad of erotic attachment, and to "New Lace Sleeves," a gorgeously detailed song about a newly adulterous couple.

The unrecorded songs were straight and true. Along with "Alibi Factory" and "45," there was "When I Was Cruel," a sad ballad with a big melody, and "Lesson in Cruelty," a song with words by Mr. Costello and music by Mr. Nieve—this one was part jazz torch song, part chanson.

The show sagged during flyaway numbers like "Pads, Paws and Claws," "Shallow Grave" and the sickly sweet Burt Bacharach-Hal David number, "I’ll Never Fall in Love Again." Also, "Alison," "Watching the Detectives" and "God’s Comic" seemed a bit "sung out," to borrow a phrase from Mr. Costello’s "God Give Me Strength" (which knocked out the house late in the show).

It was a sign of the singer’s vibrancy that over a dozen songs came from the last three years—and yet the show had the feeling of a big crowd-pleaser, with nary a hit (including "Accidents Will Happen," "Veronica" and "Everyday I Write the Book") left unsung.