Elvis Costello is hailing himself as the "Beloved Entertainer." Formerly the self-declared "King of America," he has now moved on to a wider, more broadly based description. This is the key to Elvis '89. He has always been the beloved entertainer to a tight knit group of diehard fans, but the college tour that opened at Conte Forum last Friday proves Elvis is aiming to become beloved by all. The sold out crowd seemed to consist mostly of people getting their first exposure to Elvis, and Elvis played his set primarily as an introduction for these folks.
"You may not know me, but I was there when you were born" he declared as he walked out on stage just before opening with "Accidents Will Happen." Playing solo with just an acoustic guitar (ala the "Spectacular Singing Songbook" tour) and dressed in a Roy Orbison suit, Elvis played through a low key set with very little embellishment.
Low key is the key to summing up the show. It was Elvis in his most base form, playing almost entirely from his collection of hits and taking very few chances. That's not to say it wasn't an enjoyable show, but it was pretty much uneventful. He hit a groove early then did little to deviate from it, keeping an even keel throughout the short first set.
There were a few high points, such as some cynical remarks about Geraldo Rivera and trashy novels and an aping of the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville" that punctuated "Now I'm Dead" and covers like "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Not Fade Away" but the show was primarily a safe blend of old and new for Elvis, with minimal stage banter.
The encores were the point at which the show began to liven up. Coming out to a taped beat-box for the first, Costello picked up an electric guitar and played a heavy very distorted cover of "Pump It Up." He then left the stage again, to return with his sidekick Nick Lowe, both with acoustic guitars for "a song Nick wrote that I stole" ("Peace, Love and Understanding").
The third encore was the point most people had been waiting for. Yes, he had talked about it on 'BCN last month, explained it in the Globe that morning and now it was time: the heart had arrived on stage. This part of the show was done in the spirit of the "Singing Songbook's" wheel, but unfortunately, it lacked any of Songbook's sense of spontaneity and fun.
The premise: get pulled from the audience by a fur clad "wolfman," join Elvis on stage, put on a blindfold, pull a flag bearing the name of one of the "13½ deadly sins," and request a song that pertains to that sin. A fun idea rooted deeply in the performance maxim "When all else has been done, camp it up." It worked well for about the first two sins ("awesomenesss" and "lust" respectively) and Elvis turned from a low key stage personality into a hyper, bantering, funny host. The requests were "Less Than Zero" and "Alison," not because the songs pertained to the sins but because they were two popular songs not included in the body of the set. After that the idea died, and on the fourth and final sin when a volunteer failed to come up with a request Elvis lamented "This is where you find out they don't know any fucking songs!" He then went into "Watching the Detectives" on his own accord, but by then the audience had started to get restless and had begun to leave. Elvis, also realizing it was the wrong audience for an all request set, finished with two more brief encores and left quietly.
Opener Nick Lowe, after a slow start, played a good, solid set, as low key as Elvis and also solo with acoustic. His bright, jokey stage presence and his fun, easy going pop songs like "Cruel to Be Kind," "Half a Boy and Half a Man" and "And So It Goes" went over well with the audience.