The faithful began arriving around 5 p m. on Saturday even though the doors of the gym at Colby College in Waterville wouldn't open until 7 p m. There was quite a diversity of fans, from the typical college student to those who may have been longtime fans of Elvis Costello, Ireland's second most popular musical export (the first being, of course, U2).
For example: the tall, slender brunette with a black leather jacket (with fringe) and a "Nixon's The One" button right over a "Nick Lowe" (he was the opening act) pin.
She had driven up from Portland to see her two favorite recording artists and she was, 'like, totally wired to the hilt, ya know?' bubbling over with tales of all the times (and exotic places) she's seen him her favorite song of his and so on.
The doors opened a little late, but all 3,000 fans made it to their seats before Nick Lowe took the stage and there was no backing band. Just Lowe, the lone, tall figure standing in the spotlights playing his songs (new and old) on an acoustic guitar.
It was great to hear "Rose Of England," "Cruel To Be Kind," "And So It Goes" and, of course, "I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock 'n' Roll" in this solo acoustic format. But the really weird thing was that the crowd also loved it. They didn't seem the least bit put out that there was no crashing drums, screaming guitars or fancy synthesizer licks behind him — they were completely into his music and his presence. As he left the stage, he received a standing ovation, but there was no encore.
The roadies came out for a brief set change (but where were the drums, keyboards and other paraphernalia for Costello's band, I wondered) as the fans milled about in the sweltering gym checking with friends. Then the lights go out and the solitary figure of Elvis Costello strides out on the stage, with acoustic guitar in hand, to thunderous applause, with no band. That was the second surprise.
As good as Lowe was in his solo performance, Costello was even better. His thought-provoking lyrics, dynamic and commanding stage presence left little doubt as to why he was the headliner of the evening. I found myself, like most of the other 3,000 people present, listening to his every utterance, so caught up in the mood that the superb singer/songwriter was weaving.
It was a truly receptive audience that encouraged him with standing ovations that occurred on a regular basis, especially since he gave four encores and was on stage for over two hours. One of those encores deserves special mention in that it found both Costello and Lowe sharing the stage for a duet (Lowe on Fender bass, which he played on one of his new tunes in his solo set, and Costello on acoustic) of three songs, including a tune Costello introduced by saying, "This is a song that Nick wrote and I stole." It turned out to be "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding."
The most amazing thing that I observed that night was the fact that at no time was there any lag in the attention span of the packed crowd. That is a tribute to these two venerable performers who showed a lot of courage getting up there musically naked in front of 3,090 fans with no backing groups to hide mistakes in or to rest behind. It was a five-star evening, no question.