I walked out on Elvis Costello's show at the Erwin Center Wednesday night. And if he keeps on going like he has been, and continues playing past my deadline, I'm going to walk out of a lot more. But as it was, by the time I had to leave to file this story, Costello, the Attractions and the TKO horns had still managed to chew their way non-stop through two dozen songs. It was a far cry from the time that Costello almost incited an Austin crowd to riot by playing only half an hour a few years ago.
Whatever the change in Elvis' attitude, his enthusiasm and energy remained undiminished. The power of the music that poured off the stage along with an extravagant light array made the cavernous Erwin Center seem almost intimate.
The crowd was as primed as the band was. They were on their feet even before Costello stopped bouncing and swung into "Let Them All Talk" from his new Punch the Clock album. And speaking of punch, Costello's new infatuation with Motown and Stax/Volt horn charts resulted in some arrangements that blew previous notions of Costello's music to shreds. The good news is that the horns sounded about five times more potent and assured than on the album, especially on songs like "The Greatest Thing" and "The World and His Wife." The bad news is that the pungency of some of Costello's lyrics tended to get lost in the aural pyrotechnics. And while the horns were effective on older songs like "Watching the Detectives," it seems odd that they left the stage for the middle part of the show without lending their talents to songs like "(What's So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding," which might have benefited from a hot horn arrangement.
Small complaints though. Costello seemed as assured as he has ever been and he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his music.
The same might be said of Aztec Camera, who opened the show. But only if you were willing to stretch a point. Their songs started out with muscular guitar chords that evolved into a pastiche of old and not-so-old pop styles. That was okay until it became obvious that all their songs were built around this limited device. After pathetic attempts to wring some climactic guitar feedback on three successive tunes, the band left the stage assisted by no more than modest applause.