Elvis Costello keeps his word. When his last performance here, just six weeks ago, was marred somewhat by chronic voice problems, he vowed to return soon in good voice. On Saturday night in the National Stadium he turned in a powerful solo performance which ensured all was forgiven.
Costello was in complete control straight from the start. The range he achieved with the simple mixture of his voice and guitar, or piano, quickly put him on intimate terms with his audience. His considerable singing ability carried him easily and dispelled any slight apprehension about him playing without his band, The Attractions.
At about nine o'clock the lights went down in the almost packed Stadium. Costello came out and launched straight into "Home Truth" from his last album, Goodbye Cruel World. He was obviously releaxed and feeling at home. He quipped frequently with a warm-hearted audience which enjoyed his every utterance.
After a few songs, including "Man Called Uncle" and "The Only Flame in Town", an inspired Costello turned to display his talents on the piano. "Shot With His Own Gun", "Accidents Will Happen" and a melancholy "Almost Blue" drew this artist and the audience even closer.
For the rest of the evening, Costello varied the pace and changed instruments regularly endowing each song with freshness and vitality. "Strict Time," "Worthless Thing" and "Love Field" stood out particularly. Then, in full flight, playing electric guitar, he treated us to "High Fidelity," followed by the uncompromising "Riot Act."
Costello rushed off stage but was drawn back again by the unyielding clamour. A 15-minute set followed, and ended with his classic 1977 single "Alison." Then he was gone again—but not for long. Prolonged cheering again brought him back on stage, this time accompanied by T-bone Burnett, who earlier in the evening won aver the audience with an interesting solo performance.
As soon as Costello introduced the duo as the Coward Brothers, from Tennessee, Albania, it was obvious that no ordinary set was going to follow. The crowd rushed to the stage and got ready for some clapping and whooping. And the Coward Brothers did not disappoint. A stomping mixture of country and blues, peppered with tremendously corney lyrics, kept everyone smiling for the next 25 minutes.
An irreverent version of that sacred San Francisco anthem, "Immigrant's Song" ("If you're going to San Francisco, / Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair ...") was the highlight here.
Elvis Costello showed on Saturday night that he does not need the luxury of a band to get his message across. His personal style and intensity is more than enough to do the job.