It was the old, familiar scene of singer/songwriter bearing acoustic guitar and playing for an attentive college crowd. What wasn't so familiar was that the singer/songwriter was Elvis Costello.
Costello brought his first solo tour to this campus on April 14, and despite the absence of his regular band, the Attractions, Costello had his audience in awe from the moment he took the stage to sing "Accidents Will Happen."
Working with an arsenal of acoustic and electric guitars as well as piano, Costello's 90-minute set included compositions spanning his entire career. He reached far back to the pure country of "Stranger In The House" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and moved to the more recent past with such songs as "Shipbuilding" and "Everyday I Write The Book," his 1983 top 40 single.
To add spice and demonstrate his versatility, Costello threw in a handful of covers. Dylan's country-period "I Threw It All Away" became a Costello natural, as did Merle Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down," which appeared on Costello's Almost Blue country album. For the fans of true obscurities, he resurrected a 1965 Dusty Springfield recording, "Losing You."
But, predictably, Costello's own material drew the best response. "Almost Blue" and "Kid About It" brought out the balladeer in Costello. Even the rockers lent themselves nicely to the "folky" interpretations.
The evening was not solely devoted to old favorites, however, and if the seven or eight new songs he performed were an indication of what's to come on the next album, fans are in for some solid stuff. One tune, co-written with Jerry Dammers of Special A.K.A., was apparently titled "Your Girlfriend Is What I Like Best About You," and is easily one of the most humorous efforts Costello has ever been involved with. "Only Flame In Town" was another counttryish foray, while "Worthless Thing" seemed to be a putdown of cable television. "Peace In Our Time," an import single which Costello released under the pseudonym "The Imposter, is a powerful anti-war anthem.
Opening act T Bone Burnett also played a solo acoustic set, but unfortunately the impatient college crowd didn't give the tall Texan the attention he deserved. Burnett chose songs from his most recent Warner Bros. albums as well as such appropriate covers as "Not Fade Away" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." The folk roots that Burnett showcased here reminded old-timers of his stint with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tour nearly 10 years ago, and also proved Just how similar Burnett is to the unadorned Dylan.