The full house at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby Thursday night started cheering when the house lights dimmed, the recorded music (mostly Ian Dury songs) faded and the stage became shrouded in angry red hues: Elvis Costello was at hand.
But the crowd's expectations were sidetracked momentarily, for through the theater's sound system came a breezy, sardonic Cole Porter-like song about the wondrousness of America. This truly was Costello's calling card, a little dig from the Britisher who's had a stormy love-hate relationship with the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave during the last four years.
After the line "I love America..." the song faded and the stage darkened. Suddenly, Costello's raw, nasal voice boomed the opening lines to "Shot With His Own Gun," one of the stronger cuts from his just-released sixth Columbia LP, Trust. He was accompanied only by the piano of Steve Nieve.
Once again, Costello reversed expectations: Instead of him and his band, the Attractions, launching into a power rocker to capture the crowd's attention, he riveted attention on himself by starkly posing at the microphone as the house lights came up, making the crowd wonder just what he would do next.
After the song, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas bounded on stage, and Costello broke the tension with a rather hurried "Accidents Will Happen." But just as the crowd was settling in to hear their favorite songs, Costello tossed in two new compositions from Trust, neither of which was particularly memorable.
That seemed to establish a pattern for the show, which lasted about 90 minutes and included 26 songs and two encores. The only difference was that in the second
half of the concert the newer material went over much better, especially the country-styled "Different Finger" (done almost like the Beatles' "Oh Darling"); the Bo Diddley-rhythmed "Lovers Walk" and "Big Sisters Clothes."
Costello seemed a little pudgier, especially in the legs, and was groomed much more conservatively (shorter hair, gray sports jacket with narrow lapels, dark tie and slacks, white shirt and his trademark horn-rimmed glasses) than the last time he toured the States two years ago. And despite his reputation as a surly, uncommunicative performer, Costello did a lot of smiling.
About halfway through the show, Martin Belmont, guitarist for Graham Parker's band, the Rumour, joined the Attractions on stage and played with them through the encores.
Though Costello's vocals often were buried by a muddy, bottom-heavy sound mix, he connected nicely on the lovely ballad, "Alison," which Nieve spiced with honky took stylings; the anthemic "Radio, Radio" and "Pump It Up," and the Motown-rhythm and blues songs Walk and Don't Look Back" and "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down."