Elvis was here
By Regis Behe
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Elvis Costello hasn't exactly been a regular visitor to Pittsburgh.
In a career that dates back to the release of 1977's "My Aim is True" -- a brilliant marriage of punk anger and sophisticated songwriting -- Costello has only performed locally four times.
Perhaps the reason for his absence can be explained in a lack of a suitable venue to host his prodigious talents. Since his Pittsburgh debut at the Stanley Theater on Aug. 17, 1982, Costello has played the A.J. Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University three times. And each time, Costello seemed irked by the venue's acoustics.
"Why don't you build a ... concert hall in this town?" Costello said the last time he was here, Oct. 10, 2002.
On Sunday, Costello gets to test drive his catalog at the Chevrolet Amphitheatre in Station Square, this time with Emmylou Harris guesting on vocals and the Impostors as his backing band.
To get ready, here's a look back at Costello's previous shows in Pittsburgh.
Stanley Theater, Downtown, Aug. 17, 1982
The buzz before the show seemed to be as much about Costello's behavior as the music itself. Early in his career, Costello could be a contentious performer, and some in the crowd speculated there would be some indoor fireworks. But on this night in Pittsburgh, he was nothing but a gentleman. Dressed in a jacket and tie, Costello and the Attractions were nothing short of breathtaking. He drew material from his then just-released album "Imperial Bedroom," but it was his early songs, from a haunting version of "Watching the Detectives" to an incendiary "Radio Radio" that brought the house down. At the end of the night, a beaming Costello kept holding his index finger in the air and miming the words "One more? One more?" before launching into another encore.
It might seem nothing could top that, but the next night The Clash brought the "Combat Rock" tour to the Stanley. Arguably, these are the best consecutive nights of rock concerts ever in Pittsburgh.
A.J. Palumbo Center, April 5, 1989
Nick Lowe opens the show with a solo set, followed by Costello's electric one-man show. Stripped down, Costello's songs seem more vituperative and angry, especially the opener, "Accidents Will Happen," and "Brilliant Mistake." Songs from his 1989 release, "Spike," including "Veronica," "Pads, Paws & Claws" and "Let Him Dangle," are good but hardly revelatory. It's when Lowe joins Costello for a second set that the concert draws fire, with memorable versions of the Lowe-penned "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and "Pump it Up" among the highlights.
A.J. Palumbo Center, Aug. 11, 1989
Costello returns four months later with another backing band, the Rude Five, and again starts the show with a razor-sharp version of "Accidents Will Happen." But what's notable is the giant spinning wheel onstage divided into sections with songs titles. Audiences members give the wheel a spin, and the band launches into the song that comes up. It made for an eclectic show, the setlist including "Clubland," "Poisoned Rose," "Everyday I Write the Book" and a memorable version of "Radio Sweetheart" segueing to Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said."
A.J. Palumbo Center, Oct. 10, 2002
Costello with the reformed Attractions, minus bassist Bruce Thomas, 20 years after they appeared at the Stanley, and except for receding hairlines and expanding waistlines it sounded as if weeks, not years, had passed. Newer songs such as "Tart" and "Doll's Revolution, held up well next to the deep and rich Costello catalog, including "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," "Radio Radio," "Pump It Up" and, of course, "Accidents Will Happen." And the song troika of "Alison" giving way to "He'll Have to Go" to "Suspicious Minds" was everything you could possibly hope to hear at a rock concert in terms of emotive brilliance.