It's too bad everything has to be labelled these days. A car isn't just a car anymore — it's a compact, or a sub-compact; a mid-size or a full-size. And a movie isn't just a comedy or a drama; it's a G-rated comedy or an R-rated drama.
It's the same way with music, which is more segmented than an earthworm these days. A band just can't play "music" anymore. They've got to play rock or pop or funk or punk or country, etc.
That is probably why the best singer-songwriter in the world today is still virtually unknown in suburban America. Elvis Costello is much too original, much too talented and much too good to simply fit into any one category. Everything he attempts, from twangy George Jones ballads to thundering rockers, he masters. And he certainly proved that last Friday night at the Bob Carr Auditorium
The show began with a slice of Costello's typically British tongue-in-cheek humor — the sounds of Dr. Hook's "Cover of the Rolling Stone" (on which he appeared only three weeks ago) blaring on the sound system. This was followed by the terrifying theme from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Only then did he and his band. the Attractions, bound on stage to begin a solid 3-encore non-stop show. The world's most prolific songwriter (8 albums in 5 years — including two LP's of 20 songs each) ran the gamut of his impressive repertoire, playing songs from his first album, 1977's My Aim Is True, through his most recent effort, Imperial Bedroom.
When he sang, "I know this world is killing you." from "Alison" not only was the despair in his voice, it was on his face. From the hauntingly beautiful "Clowntime is Over" to the foot-stomping "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" to the hard-driving "Oliver's Army," Costello performed with the passion of a man who really cared about what be was doing.
His occasional stateside pseudo-hits (though he is constantly number 1 on the British charts — which says something about American radio programmers) "Watching the Detectives," "(What's so Funny 'bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," "Accidents Will Happen" and "Watch Your Step" sounded even stronger than their vinyl counterparts.
Costello uses the multi-talented Attractions to perfection, but his best instrument is his own voice. Though the lyrics are often hard to distinguish through his thick London accent, one feels the power and dedication of each song through his excellent vocalization.
This was not the old, arrogant Elvis Costello who often acted like he was doing a favor by dropping in for a quick one-hour set. This was a seasoned professional, a man of immense talent who has come into his own as a performer.
We can expect many more years of superb musicianship from the real king of rock 'n' roll. The world should take notice.