Elvis left his mark on the building
By MATT GLEASON
World Scene Writer
Elvis Costello, whose picture hangs in the Cain's Ballroom, did everything right Thursday night
"For all things good and holy, SHUT--UP!" That's what I was thinking Thursday night at the Cain's Ballroom as Elvis Costello stood to the side of the stage, unmiked and singing a brief section of his moving, acoustic ballad "The Scarlet Tide" like a street-corner balladeer.
There he was, the man behind his trademark glasses, playing to a packed house and singing the last song of the night and blowing my mind.
You see, to hear Costello's voice naked of amplification was something akin to savoring a tiny bit of jasmine in a garbage dump. My ears wanted to hold onto the faintest sound for as long as possible before it flittered away. If only everyone -- I mean everyone -- could have zipped their traps and let Costello's emotive voice be fully heard.
That aside, Costello did everything right Thursday.
Every song had power to it, from the frenetic rockers to slow ballads full of literate, thought-provoking imagery.
He wasn't alone, though. His three-man band, the Imposters, were, you might say, the musical attractions aside from Costello, especially keyboardist Steve Nieve. The Tim Burton-looking gent's fingers lit his black and whites and let them explode in upbeat, zippy melodies, but also played intimate, emotional lines that colored the songs in deep blues and purples. Nieve could have run away like a bandit with the show if Costello weren't the captivating bloke he is on stage.
While the entire set never lulled, it must be said that its sparkling gems were familiar tunes like "Pump It Up," "Radio Radio," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and "Alison," which was masterfully blended with Elvis Presley's classic "Suspicious Minds."
Alas, Costello didn't play "Veronica" or "Everyday I Write the Book," but that was a forgivable sin.
Although the older material was like a fizzy burst of nostalgia, Costello's new tunes were less familiar to the tongue but almost as sweet.
Costello played a chunk of those new ditties during a series of new songs from his quasi-concept album "The Delivery Man," which tells the story of a killer named Abel and his effect on a group of three small-town women.
He began the series with the almost Southern gothic tune "Country Darkness" that finds a woman daydreaming about forbidden sins. "Needle Time" was impressively slowed down at one point to a swaggering, bluesy pace that allowed him to create a dramatic backdrop to wickedly sing "needle time" like a junkie ready for a fix. He then punctuated that line with short, tortured yells that sounded like a sinner burning for earthly crimes.
Beyond the new songs, since it was St. Patrick's Day and all, Costello admitted he didn't know any Irish songs but would play some drinking tunes anyway before launching into the pub-friendly "Sittin And Thinkin.' "
That one deserved a tip of the bottle to the man on stage, who's probably no stranger to drowning his sorrows in tall glasses of ale.
That drinking ditty got Costello thinking about the first time he played the Cain's back in '78. Back then, because of the venue's country music heritage, Costello started out the show with three Hank Williams songs. The crowd thought he was nuts, apparently, but Costello told everyone Thursday night that, despite what some might think, "Hank is punk rock."
One of the highlights of the show came when Costello invited Oklahoma's own Wanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly, on stage to play the slow, country ballad "Crying Time," which they recorded together on Jackson's disc "Heart Trouble."
The diminutive legend with the black ball of hair atop her head shared lines with Costello and then they both sang lines sadder than a dog with three legs.
Before they sang, Costello told the crowd they should all write to everyone they could, including President Bush, to get Jackson in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
After the show, I wandered into Bob's, the venue's smaller room, and saw there on the wall, Costello's concert poster from way back in the day.
The gent behind the nerdy-looking glasses was pictured inside a tiny little TV with bunny ears. His suit looked tight and he seemed every bit the earnest, passionate musician posed with his electric six string.
More than a quarter century after that poster was made, Costello returned to the Cain's and proved that age may have tamed the man in the picture but not his music.