Hello, who's this guy with the glasses on-stage here? The friendly one, who chats with the audience, performs for two all-out hours, and thanks us for coming? Surely it can't be rock's angry young man, Elvis Costello.
Elvis Costello it was at the Universal Amphitheatre on Sept. 18, the first of two sold-out nights, in one of the best shows of the summer concert season. Backed by the Attractions, the TKO Horns and the Afrodiziak singers, Costello gave 120% through a 90-minute set and two long encores, proving himself both a confident crooner and a hot stripped-down rocker.
Amid a cunning stage set of nine vertical screens and colored lights, Costello performed a selection of material reaching back to "Alison" and up to "Every Day I Write The Book" (which he introduced by giving its Billboard chart position). Alongside "Watching The Detectives," "Man Out Of Time," "Shabby Doll," "Clubland" and "Clown Time Is Over," Costello worked snatches of familiar covers into the set: "Back Stabbers," "Working In A Coal Mine," "Friday On My Mind" and his namesake's "His Latest Flame."
Costello's voice was firm, assured, and if he still stands stock still to perform, that is counterbalanced by elfin piano player Steve Nieve's leaping back and forth between two banks of five keyboards. Bruce Thomas played bass like it's a lead instrument, and Pete Thomas (no relation) thumped that drum kit on "Pump It Up" as if his life depended on it.
The horns and backup singers stepped out four numbers into the set, and rejoined toward the end of the 27-song performance. The mid-section proved that the Attractions are as potent a rock 'n' roll band as any working today, much more than a canvas for Costello's pungent lyrics. The crowd was ecstatic, giving a long standing ovation and rushing the stage.
Openers Aztec Camera have been running an ad campaign saying that bandleader Roddy Frame is the man Costello considers to be his fiercest competition. In that case, why did he invite them to open? At the moment, Costello has little to fear from Frame, a young songwriter who insists on hogging the spotlight from his band and who, so far, remains in the realm of "has potential." The single "Oblivious" sounded good, as did the acoustic "Boy Wonders" and some of the other songs from the band's Sire LP High Land, Hard Rain.