During last Friday's return visit to the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Elvis Costello was a man in a hurry. Like the time management-challenged White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, Costello always appeared to have one eye on the clock and one foot out the door. (Even at the after-party in the Tower basement, Costello shook well-wishers' hands efficiently and methodically.)
Full-bore performances of "I Hope You're Happy Now" and "Tear Your Own Head Off (It's a Doll's Revolution)," the latter from Costello's sterling newest disc, When I Was Cruel (Island), aroused the sold-out crowd at the outset. But by whisking through "Green Shirt" he took some of the starch out, and whiz-bang readings of "No Action," "Less Than Zero" and "Girls Talk" lessened their impact.
The sound mix also proved a bone of contention. Costello still favors a booming, way-heavy bottom and tinny trebly top, leaving no room for nuance, which undermined several songs, including "Honey Are You Straight or Are You Blind" and "King of America."
To Costello's credit, the show was not merely a rerun of his late-June appearance at the Tower. Of course, the prolific 47-year-old Brit singer-songwriter could stage a week's worth of shows without repeating himself or diminishing the quality of the content, provided he avoids much of the material he recorded from 1989 to 1997.
Many of the show's summits occurred when Costello took his time. The moving "Indoor Fireworks" and "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" (with a segue into "You Really Got a Hold on Me"); the creepy psychodramas "When I Was Cruel" and "Spooky Girlfriend," and the evergreen "Alison" (with a "Suspicious Minds" segue) all demonstrated the power of subtlety.
On the other hand, with a snarly "Watching the Detectives" and ultra-mega-rockin' renditions of "Radio Radio" and "Pump It Up," Costello proved the power of power, and then some.