Elvis Costello brings many things to mind. Turning off the cell phone isn't usually one of them. But that's exactly the situation a capacity crowd found itself in Thursday as Costello brought his hushed, subdued and mostly acoustic act to the Warfield in San Francisco.
In all, it was a fairly enjoyable night of music that focused on Costello's latest release, North, as well as many obscure tracks. But it could have been much more than it was. It was probably the wrong setting for the show. The concert was a soft evening of sentimental songs performed with voice, guitar and piano and would have been better suited for a more intimate venue such as Yoshi's. As it was, those with the best seats near the stage received a far better experience than those at the back of the venue. Costello performed as if he were playing a small nightclub, often moving away from the microphone and allowing his words to drift softly into the night. For their part, the audience members fervently tried to keep the venue as quiet as a place of worship. It worked fairly well but, at times, the extreme shushes rang out more loudly than the music. To the few noisemakers' defense, this was a tough show to remain quiet through. Clocking in at roughly 140 minutes, the concert was too long for the type of low-key material presented. Also, an opening act would have helped break up the monotony.
Costello, 49, was in perfect voice. He sounded strong and clear — at least when he was standing near the mic — as he crooned his way through "Green Shirt," "You Left Me in the Dark" and "Brilliant Mistake." Those who came out expecting a run through Costello's greatest hits were definitely in the wrong building. The singer-guitarist basically ignored his old singles in favor of more mature efforts and tracks from North, which can be seen as a love letter to his new wife, jazz-star Diana Krall, as well as a direct extension from his work with Burt Bacharach. The crowd had to endure an hour of mostly unknown songs before Costello finally dusted off a classic. Luckily, it was worth the wait. Twenty-five years after its release, "(What's so Funny'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" is as relevant and as poignant as ever.