Detroit Free Press, April 22, 1989

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An ironic legend, Elvis Costello,
meets fans' great expectations


Gary Graff

ANN ARBOR — On the cover of his new album, Spike, a caricature of British pop star Elvis Costello is underlined by the legend: "The Beloved Entertainer." It's purely tongue-in-cheek, a jab of Costello's ironic wit.

But Friday night at Hill Auditorium on the U-M campus, he lived up to that billing.

He was certainly beloved by the capacity crowd of more than 4,100, which gave him a standing ovation as he walked onstage for his first Michigan show in more than 4½ years. And Costello was far more entertaining than you'd expect from a solo performer armed only with a couple of guitars and a piano.

Spike's title is a nod to the musical comic Spike Jones, and Costello's two-hour concert Friday featured an element of Jones' gags, music and social parody.

But there was nothing madcap here; Costello's humor has a far sharper edge. Take his midsong monologue during "God's Comics," one of the many Spike songs Costello offered. He painted a word picture of heaven that found God sitting on a tropical fish-filled water bed amidst hot tubs and fur-covered TVs "and of course watching a colorized version of It's a Wonderful Life. To hell with creation; he likes those colors intense."

And then there was the satin heart backdrop made up of the 13 deadly sins, which Costello updated to include such modern twists as the Sin of Doing Lunch. Audience members were invited onstage to pick pieces of the heart and then request an appropriate Costello favorite.

If it was all hubris, however, the show wouldn't have worked. After 13 years of recording, Costello remains one of pop music's top songwriters and certainly the most enduring figure of the late 70s British punknew wave explosion.

All of the songs he played Friday held up in the most spartan of versions as he mixed old crowd-pleas-ers with new material and even a few surprising covers.

Particularly impressive was a reinvention of "Watching the Detectives," the tense, reggaeish song from his 1977 debut album that was delivered Friday as an upbeat rocker with manic guitar work.

Costello made another fond nod to his past during his encore, when he invited his chum and opening act Nick Lowe onstage for a version of Lowe's "Peace, Love and Understanding" that nearly brought the house down.

Word is that Costello accompanied by a full band will return to the area during the summer. Judging from Friday's show, there's every indication that he'll be just as beloved and equally entertaining.

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Detroit Free Press, April 22, 1989


Gary Graff reviews Elvis Costello, solo, Friday, April 21, 1989, Hill Auditorium, University Of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

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1989-04-22 Detroit Free Press page 13B clipping 01.jpg
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1989-04-22 Detroit Free Press page 13B.jpg
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