I am a person who goes to a lot of concerts, and once in a while I see a concert that is so stunning and provocative it makes me want to tell the whole world about it. You'll have to excuse me for turning my column into a concert review, but this show has had such a profound effect on me I feel I must review it.
Last weekend I was able to see Elvis Costello in East Lansing, Michigan. Most people would probably think it crazy to drive 650 miles each way to see a concert. As a matter of fact, I myself felt a little insecure about travelling so far for what some people would consider a "trivial" affair.
But all my reservations melted away when Elvis stepped onto the stage of the intimate 4500-seat auditorium with his oversized acoustic guitar, and proceeded to play his intoxicating hit, "Accidents Will Happen," followed by such standards as "This Year's Girl," "Watching The Detectives," and a new song not yet available on record called "Hidden Charms."
This tour, only Costello's second U.S. tour in the past six years, features him alone on stage sans his long-time band, the Attractions, and donning only an acoustic guitar and a piano.
Costello's performance was as strong and compelling as any concert I have ever seen. Between songs he filled in with humorous waxings about British and American pop culture in his own English with which at times reminded me of Monty Python's Flying Circus. During the entire show Elvis kept the crowd in laughter and uproarious applause, all of which has helped him to earn the distinguished title, "The Beloved Entertainer."
But besides being a funny bloke, his singing voice was as strong as a choir and as clear as a bell. He also had an uncanny ability to make his songs just as (if not more) powerful by himself as they are with full accompaniment by a band.
During the encore he employed a sort of game-show masquerade where he came out dressed in a velvet smoking jacket carrying a plastic pitch-fork, having an assistant dressed up as a polar bear bring contestants up on the stage to participate. Each contestant had to pull a wound-up flag from a giant red velvet heart that was on the stage in order to reveal one of the 13 and a half deadly sins. (Sounds sort of weird, don't it?). One of the sins poked fun at American slang words (the sin of "awesomeness," and another poked fun of the names of heavy metal songs (the sin of "Girls Girls Girls"). Each person's prize after having done so was that they could request the next song they wanted Elvis to play.
The highlight of the entire evening was when one of the contestants requested "Man Out Of Time." The studio version of the song cannot even do justice to the version he performed live. It somehow seemed magical to me when the entire audience became completely silent, as if holding their breath, while Elvis cried out "To murder my love is a crime / But will you still love a man out of time?"
When the show was over, most of my friends walked out of the auditorium, much as I did, speechless. Never before had I realized how awesome (forgive me) a concert by anyone could be. But there really is not a way for me, even now, to put into words what the concert was like. Let me just say that the 650-mile drive was worth it.