Preview of Seattle concert
Seattle Times, 1999-05-20
- Patrick MacDonald

Posted at 10:24 a.m. PDT; Thursday, May 20, 1999


438x500 (58K) Elvis Costello: Riding a new wave

by Patrick MacDonald
Seattle Times staff critic

410x500 (51K)

Elvis is alive!

No, not that Elvis, but Declan Patrick McManus, better known as Elvis Costello.

The darling of the British New Wave movement of the 1970s, and one of the finest pop songwriters ever, Costello is in a career upsurge. His recent collaboration with Burt Bacharach is the latest in a series of impressive moves that have revitalized his profile in the '90s.

After a slump in the '80s, during which he lost much of his '70s sheen as he stumbled about trying to redefine his style and reshape his personal life, Costello is poised to have the kind of career comeback his old pal and artistic equal, Bob Dylan, is having.

The tour, which brings Costello and his longtime keyboard player, Steve Nieve, to town next week, is a key part of that comeback.

At the start of the tour last month in Ireland and England, Costello delighted audiences by playing material from his whole 22-year recording career, including '70s classics he avoided for many years.

In sets lasting more than two hours, he has revived such favorites as "Accidents Will Happen," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Watching the Detectives" and "Oliver's Army" (the latter updated as commentary on the war in the Balkans).

He's also included songs he composed with Bacharach, material from his '70s albums with the Attractions and his '80s solo albums, and even some parodies (of Duran Duran and the Verve).

Elvis Costello, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Paramount Theatre, Seattle; sold out.

Nieve (who's real name is Steve Nason) originally joined Costello's band, the Attractions, in 1977. Costello broke up the band in 1986, and the two hadn't seen each other in years when they met by chance in 1993, while Nieve was doing session work with soul singer Sam Moore. Costello and Nieve immediately started working together again. They've done several tours and recorded a five-CD box set, "Costello & Nieve," released two years ago.

Their relationship, and the whole saga of Costello's career, is recounted in "Elvis Costello: A Biography" by Irish writer Tony Clayton-Lea ($23; Fromm International), which will be in stores May 28.

Written without Costello's cooperation, it's a sympathetic, appreciative, competent book with no new revelations but a full overview of his life and career. The most interesting parts have to do with his personal life, about which he has revealed little over the years.

The book also deals with Costello's sometimes prickly personality. He sought to be an "irritant" early in his career, an attitude that sometimes got him into trouble. The fact that he's happily married and artistically satisfied at 43 may have taken some of the sting out his recent songwriting, but he's still politically rebellious, the book says.

One incident in the book will be of interest to longtime local fans. It has to do with a February 1979 appearance at the Paramount, during which Costello seemed to not care about the show or the audience. He left the stage after a bland set that lasted less than 45 minutes.

The book says Costello was upset with manager Jake Riviera over the promotional hype of the tour. Costello took it out on the Seattle audience. He was "petulant and rabid." When the Seattle crowd booed the short set, "Costello's sound crew organized shreiking feedback to drown the negative audience reaction."

That was one of only five Costello shows here. The first was a sensation, in 1978 at the Paramount, when he was a bright new star. He also played a good show there in '81.

Costello last played here at the Showbox in 1996, accompanied by Nieve. He surprised the capacity audience by singing "Alison," his first big hit, which he seldom plays live. He also did songs co-written with Paul McCartney. In 1994, he played a Paramount show with the reunited Attractions, including Nieve, which concentrated on songs from his then-current "Brutal Youth" CD.

Those were good shows. But Wednesday's has the potential to be the best in 20 years. Long live Elvis!

Copyright 1999 Seattle Times Company