Elvis Costello was in San Diego last night at the Balboa Theatre, and a few lucky FM 94/9 listeners and I had the chance to see him.
For me, it was the first time, and often, weighed down by a lifetime of expectation, shows like this can turn out a little under whelming. Elvis Presley might be "The King" but Costello held court in San Diego last night.
From the moment he walked on stage, alone, in almost total darkness to perform "Complicated Shadows," he grabbed ahold of the sold out crowd, and never let go.
Through an almost three-hour, 30-song set that included two encores, 85% of which just featured Elvis sans backing band or other musicians, he commanded the room in a way I've rarely experienced.
In our millisecond attention span culture, where flash, pomp, and circumstance is usually the champion of the day, having a musician of Costello's caliber, with a catalog spanning parts of five decades, simply walk on stage, share his stories and his music in such a personal way, and have a silent room hanging on his every word and note was incredibly refreshing.
He hit some fan favorites including "Accidents Will Happen," "Watching the Detectives," "Beyond Belief," and during his first encore, "Alison" and "Pump It Up," but the evening was full of unexpected treats and surprises.
Ping-ponging back and forth from a choir of acoustic and electric guitars behind him and the grand piano, he covered Los Lobos ("A Matter of Time") Grateful Dead ("It Must Have Been The Roses") Pink Floyd ("Another Brick In The Wall Part 2") The Davis Sisters ("I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down") Cliff Edwards ("Side by Side") as well as an amazing, seemingly off-the-cuff tribute to the recently departed Merle Haggard ("The Bottle Let Me Down").
A friend who was working at the venue told me that Costello's people had warned them ahead of time "He's been going a little bit long lately," which they took to mean 20 or 25 minutes, but when the dust settled, Costello had performed for nearly an extra hour, and not only lived up to all my expectations, but surpassed them all in glorious fashion.
In a world of managed expectations, auto tune, and backup dancers, it was a reassuring experience to see that music is still alive and well. Long live THE KING.