In 1977, Elvis Costello burst on the music scene with a sizzling reggae-styled single called "Watching the Detectives." Tuesday night at GW's Smith Center, he proved he can still muster the emotionally-frayed intensity to perform "Detectives."
Armed with only a guitar, the ever-present Buddy Holly specs and his characteristic passion, Costello ran through an amazing collection of material spanning his entire career from the 1977 LP My Aim is True to his latest release, Spike.
Both the durable quality of Costello's voice and his compositions came through loud and clear, starting off with the opening number "Accidents Will Happen" from the classic 1978 LP Armed Forms.
Costello then moved on to stripped-down but inspired versions of more recent material, including Spike stand-outs "This Town" and "Deep, Dark, Truthful Mirror." He also performed "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws, and Claws." both co-written with Paul McCartney.
In addition to his own compositions. Costello incorporated several classic songs into the performance. He instructed the crowd to make appropriate cat noises for the R&B chestnut "Leave My Kitty Alone" and received spontaneous applause for interweaving the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" into his own song "New Amsterdam."
Costello, of whom album critic Dave Marsh once wrote "looks like Buddy Holly after drinking a can of STP oil treatment," paid homage to Holly by singing "Not Fade Away" as a medley with Blood and Chocolate's "Uncomplicated."
For his first encore. Costello reprised his cover of the Animals' classic "Don't Let Be Misunderstood" off of the King of America album.
Nick Lowe joined Costello during the second encore for a duet on Elvis Presley song and a stirring version of Lowe's composition "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace. Love and Understanding."
Although both Lowe and Costello are middle-aged, they sang with a youthful conviction and "the sweet harmony" the song strives to find in our society.
Lowe had opened the show earlier with a brisk, 35-minute set of rock with a slight country flavor. The audience enthusiastically received his former top-20 single "Cruel to Be Kind," as well as newer material like "Rocky Road" and "Gonna Build a Jumbo Arc."
Costello closed the evening by turning the concert into a wicked game show parody. Assuming the alter ego of Napoleon Dynamite. Costello donned a polyester leopard skin jacket and announced individual members of the audience would get to choose which song he would play next. For a price.
A stagehand dressed in a werewolf suit was sent out to gather "unsuspecting" female victims in the crowd, who were dragged up on stage to be introduced by Costello to the rest of the audience. Costello then directed them to close their eyes and draw a flag representing one of the "13½ deadly sins" from a giant stuffed heart. Among the sins were "doing lunch," "awesomeness," and "sincerity."
As a reward, each victim was allowed to choose the next song, provided Costello could remember it. Costello ended up playing the underground favorite "Allison," "I'll Wear it Proudly," his top 40-hit "Everyday I Write the Book" and a chaotic version of "Pump it Up," incorporating both lyrics from Bob Dylan's similar piece "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and some deafeaning feedback.
Costello then performed one final unrequested song, an unbelievably vicious indictment of Margaret Thatcher called "Tramp the Dirt Down." Costello poured possible every ounce of quiet fury into the song, leaving both himself and the audience drained and ready to call it a night.