"Tonight I'd like to feature something a little hit different," explained Elvis Costello at the Riviera Nightclub last night.
He could say the same thing every night of this unusual tour, which continues with sold-out shows at the Riviera tonight and tomorrow, and which will undoubtedly draw plenty of repeat customers from last night's concert.
The tour, you see, was designed by Costello so that every show would be a one-of-a-kind event — with a different theme, different musicians, different songs, different surprises.
Last night's concert was a mixed bag musically, its very looseness a blessing compared with the rigidity that so often passes for rock 'n' roll these days.
There was some solo Elvis.
There was some brilliant backing from the Confederates, the band comprising many of the musicians who played on Costello's King of America album earlier this year. There was a spot for requests, where Elvis revived the rarely performed "Radio Sweetheart" and other blasts from the past. There was even a topic for the evening — "the world of travel" — which Elvis illustrated with slides of Chicago.
What there wasn't was a selection of most 'of Costello's better-known songs, the ones made familiar through radio play and previous concert appearances. Except for a solo rendition of the obligatory "Alison," the set was dominated by relatively new Elvis and older obscurities from others that were new to Elvis's audience.
Highlights included the jump blues of "That's How You Got Killed Before," the honky-tonkin' "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" and a stirring rendition of "It Tears Me Up," a barroom weeper.
The band included guitarist James Burton and bassist Jerry Scheff — both longtime Elvis Presley sidemen — along with organist Mitchell Froom, drummer Jim Keltner and percussionist Michael Blair.
Burton is a rock 'n' roll legend. whose early work on Ricky Nelson's hits gave inspiration to countless guitarists. On "Our Little Angel," the musical warmth of his country chording and Froom's full-bodied organ showed Elvis at his most tender.
Tonight's show reunites Elvis with the Attractions, his longtime British backing trio, for the "Spectacular Spinning Songbook" — the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a game show, in which the audience will determine the song selection Wheel of Fortune fashion.
Tomorrow night. Costello and the Attractions will play material from the new Blood and Chocolate album.
Shows this different merit separate reviews, so I'll continue to cover the many sides of Elvis during the next two days as well.