Elvis Costello? The King of rock 'n' roll?
People laughed when this young Englishman adopted Elvis Presley's first name. But Costello's performance Sunday night at the Universal Amphitheater suggests this genre's Elvis shares more in common with the King than just a name.
Nobody believed that Presley's intensity and overall impact as a performer could ever be matched, but Costello and his band, the Attractions, performed with the same drama and emotion that were trademarks of the Presley stage show.
Costello showed off his 10-piece band immediately. The addition of horns and a female vocal duo gave Costello's tunes a spunky, soulful backdrop, Costello's fondness for rhythm and blues was especially evident on a surprise version of the O'Jay's "Backstabbers" and Sam and Dave's "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down."
Like Presley, Costello excelled in moving from one musical form to another. From the punk energy of "Mystery Dance," to the smoked-filled balladry of "Kid About It." Costello enthralled his audience completely, with each selection playing to a different human emotion.
Although not known for vocal prowess, Costello proved an intense and captivating crooner on tunes like "Clowntime is Over" and "Shabby Doll." Costello's concise, smooth delivery brought magic to each word, hypnotizing his audience in a way reminiscent of Presley, or even Frank Sinatra.
Costello's "Shipbuilding," a response to the Falkland Islands crisis, compares to Presley's "In the Ghetto," for its sheer social impact. Costello took the storytelling narrative a step further on "The Great Unknown," a tale of soldiers and war. Alone onstage with only a guitar, he displayed a vulnerability not previously seen.
The politics didn't end there. Costello's rave-up version of the English Beat's "Stand Down Margaret" was a pleasant surprise.
Costello also opened up to the crowd with a bit of humor. In the past, Costello had been known to be smug, obnoxious and oblivious to his audience. Sunday, Costello acknowledged his crowd, and injected some wit into the introduction of songs. "Alison" became "Torn Between Two Lovers," and "Red Shoes" was introduced as "Pink Pedal Pushers." He even smiled throughout the show, which was quite a change for a performer once known as rock's "angry young man."
With a hit single under his belt, "Everyday I Write the Book," and a new vigor and positive attitude, Costello arguably has only Bruce Springsteen in his way before he can inherit the crown left by Presley.
Opening the show was Aztec Camera, a young British hand led by 19-year-old Roddy Frame. The band combines Beatlesque melodies with thoughtful lyrics for a fresh, yet familiar sound.