A lone Elvis Costello, minus his Attractions (or any other backing musicians), took the stage Thursday night at Kirby Fieldhouse, Lafayette College, Easton, before a loudly appreciative audience of about 2,500. The no-frills performance emphasized Costello's husky, expressive voice and the more elemental appeal of his sometimes overly clever songwriting.
Why Costello is presenting solo concerts is a mystery; at some shows on this low-profile tour he has brought his band with him. The solo performances could be a whimsical gesture for the once surly Costello, intended to establish a rapport with audiences rather than alienate them like he did 10 years ago.
Costello joked and punned with the Lafayette audience, making fun of faith healer Ernest Angly, colorized movies and the Beastie Boys. "Yeah, like in America, you really have to fight for your right to party," he snickered. "Like everyone is always trying to stop you from having a good time." Spoofing elaborate concert special effects, the low-budget Costello included only a small, roll-down movie screen with him on stage. Occasionally slides of the Eiffel Tower and other irrelevant landmarks were projected on to it.
Costello's first number was "Ship of Fools," which he played on the piano. Then he switched to acoustic guitar for a stripped-down version of "Red Shoes." Costello frequently interrupted his performances with chatter and snatches from other songs. During "See in Your Eyes," a cut from his most recent Columbia album, Blood And Chocolate, he segued into "Not Fade Away," playfully drawing attention to the fact that the chord changes to his song were ripped off from the 1950s Buddy Holly tune. He strummed his acoustic guitar against beat box noises for this song, for a strange but pleasurable mix 'n' match effect.
Opening for Costello was his producer and fellow British tunesmith, Nick Lowe, who also performed without the aid of a backup band. He did romping acoustic versions of "Cruel to be Kind," "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll" and "So It Goes."
Lowe, like Costello is a wonderful and witty songwriter who can accomplish what many roots rock songwriters try, but fail to do: He can write songs that sound like Buddy Holly or Everly Brothers originals without sounding like a copycat. However, unlike Costello, he needs a band to completely rivet an audience in a large hall like Kirby. The concert was presented by Makoul Productions.