It's hard to believe that anyone could be intimate in the Evans Fieldhouse at Northern Illinois University — the airplane hanger that served as a concert hall Thursday night — but once again Elvis Costello accomplished the near-impossible.
Accompanied only by himself on guitar or piano, Elvis gave a far more relaxed performance than you'll ever see with the Attractions. Apparently, this solo tour of Costello's is another chance for him to try some new material and some reworkings of familiar songs.
This experimental feeling showed as early as "Accidents Will Happen," his third song. Costello slowed the tempo and employed his latest device, singing slightly behind the beat of the song. Other numbers received the same treatment, including "Kid About It" and "Everyday I Write the Book."
Elvis also introduced a few new tunes, all good (and probably better after the Attractions make their contributions). Best of these were "Worthless Thing," which contains a blistering indictment of those who still cash in on Elvis Presley, and the show's last song, "Peace in Our Time," in which Elvis launches a bitter attack on Ronald Reagan.
The high point of the concert came when Costello seated himself behind an electric piano and delivered a stunning, dramatic rendition of "Shipbuilding" that eclipsed even his performance of that song on Punch the Clock.
Opening for Elvis was T-Bone Burnett, a genial, lanky Texan who combines his moral beliefs with a sense of humor and humility to seem compassionate instead of preachy. Performed live, songs like "Shut it Tight," "Hefner and Disney," and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" maintain their personality while losing none of their sting.