Baltimore Sun, August 21, 1989

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Costello stunning at Merriweather

Geoffrey Himes

Costello delivers year's best tour at Merriweather

Over the past dozen years, no rock 'n' roll songwriter, not even Lou Reed or Bruce Springsteen, has accumulated such a thick, bulging book of great songs as Elvis Costello. So it was appropriate that Costello kicked off his show at the Merriweather Post Pavilion last night with "Oh, I just don't know where to begin."

That's the first line from one of his best songs, "Accidents Will Happen," a fierce rebuttal to the idea that pregnancies, careers or social orders are hit-and-run accidents. "I don't want to hear it." he bellowed on the chorus "'cause I know what. I've done."

Indeed he does, for he has purposefully and brilliantly redefined his career this year. Assembling a new cast of musicians around him, he has released 1989's best album thus far. Spike, and has followed it up with 1989's best tour thus far. Summoning up all his impatient anger of old but refining it through his ever-maturing craft, Costello last, night put on one of the most stunning rock 'n' roll shows this writer has ever witnessed.

He strode briskly on stage in a funereal black suit and eyeglasses even blacker and clunkier than Buddy Holly's. From the first chord of "Accidents Will Happen," he and his band played with a potent authority that never slipped from their grasp.

This is Costello's first full-fledged tour with a band other than the Attractions. Drummer Pete Thomas is the only holdover from the old group, and he was joined by guitarist/ horn player Marc Ribot and percussionist/ accordionist Michael Blair, both from Tom Waits' band. Jerry Scheff, from Elvis Presley's legendary T.C.B. Band, was on bass, string bass and tuba; like Thomas, Ribot and Blair, he had also played on Spike.

Filling out the lineup were singer/guitarist/trombonist Steven Soles, who had been part of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and keyboardist Larry Knechtel, a famous L.A. session player who made his mark on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and hundreds of other hits. This sextet (inexplicably called the Rude Five) played with all the assaultive energy of the Attractions but with far more versatility and finesse.

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Costello himself has developed into an exceptional singer, as he proved over and over last night. On "Brilliant Mistake," he sang the verses as intimate confessionals and then built the choruses into soaring harmonies with Soles. On "Poisoned Rose," his country confessional about a faltering marriage, he belted out the heartache verses with an undeniable clarity and forcefulness. He turned the lyrics of desire in "I Want You" into menacing threats with the tone of his voice, and he made his farewell to an old girlfriend, "Alison," sound more tender and accepting than it ever had before.

He rearranged many of his songs radically. "Let Him Dangle," the skillful polemic against capital punishment from his new album, was given a jarring treatment, full of harmony-twisting guitar, pounding percussion and sudden stops. The reggae beat of "Watching the Detectives," a song about TV-induced alienation from his first album, was buried under successive layers of guitar noise. He gave "Uncomplicated" an industrial jungle beat and then segued into Willie Dixon's classic blues number, "Hidden Charms."

"God's Comic," a demented cabaret song from Spike, was lengthened considerably. In the song, God considers his handiwork with a sense of disappointment. After hearing Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem, the Supreme Being wonders "if I should have given the world to the monkeys." At that point last night, Costello threw in a bit of the Monkees' "I'm a Believer" for good measure.

Tags: Merriweather Post PavilionColumbia, MDThe Rude 5SpikeAccidents Will HappenThe AttractionsPete ThomasMichael BlairMarc RibotTom WaitsJerry ScheffElvis PresleyThe TCB BandSteven SolesBob DylanLarry KnechtelSimon & GarfunkelBrilliant MistakePoisoned RoseI Want YouAlisonWatching The DetectivesLet Him DangleUncomplicatedWillie DixonHidden CharmsGod's ComicAndrew Lloyd WebberThe MonkeesI'm A BelieverClublandMystery DanceLondonMargaret ThatcherTramp The Dirt DownLou ReedBruce SpringsteenBuddy Holly

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The Sun / The Evening Sun, August 21, 1989

Geoffrey Himes (Evening Sun) and J.D. Considine (The Sun) review Elvis Costello and The Rude 5, Sunday, August 20, 1989, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland.


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Older Costello sounds wiser, but still angry

J.D. Considine

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When Elvis Costello first toured the United States, almost a dozen years ago. he seemed to simply seethe onstage. It wasn't simply that he and his band, the Attractions, were trying to live the part of rock's angry young men, snarling at reporters and getting into fights with other musicians: there was something heated and urgent about the way they played, as if their music could barely contain the rage they felt.

Last night, an older and wiser Elvis Costello performed at the Meriweather Post Pavilion. His new band, the Rude Five (which somehow managed to include six musicians), is by no means as raw or aggressive as the Attractions were, while Costello himself seemed witty, personable, even charming as he joked with the audience or introduced the songs.

But make no mistake — the anger is still there.

Sure, his playing isn't as punchy or ferocious as it once was. Part of that is no doubt the work of his band, whose effortless ability and ingrained sense of swing took the edge off many of the earlier arrangements. For instance, in place of the menacing pulse that powered the Attractions' version of "Clubland," the Rude Five supplied a slinkily ominous groove. "Mystery Dance," once aboil with hormonal tension, was reduced to only moderately raucous rockabilly, while "Alison," which used to tingle with repressed rage, seemed frankly sweet in its newest setting.

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Still, Costello has hardly mellowed: he's just matured over time. The barbs built into "God's Comic" aren't exactly subtle, but neither do they rely on adrenaline to make their point. Instead, Costello simply wraps his complaints in a rapier wit, as when he imagines a scene in which an indignant God flies into a rage over seeing a colorized version of Jailhouse Rock ("Elvis is always in color, even when everybody else is in black and white," saith the Lord).

In fact, the most ferocious moment of last night's performance was also one of the most quiet. After introducing "Tramp the Dirt Down" by saying, "This is a song about what's happening back where I come from," the London-born singer launched into a withering attack on "The Thatcher Revolution" that was so genuinely vituperative that there seemed no doubt Costello wanted to dance on the prime minister's grave.

Yet by the time he got to the closing chorus of the song, there was barely a sound in the place beyond his keening tenor and the strum of his acoustic guitar. And rarely has quiet ever seemed so chilling.


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