Some performers take the stage and literally just sing for their supper, satisfied with a TV dinner.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions are hungrier than that. They opened a 26-city U.S. tour at Sunrise Musical Theatre Friday night and played as if their next meal might be their last, as if their lives depended on the show.
During a nearly non-stop 30-song, two-hour show that included numbers from most of his albums as well as several cover songs, Costello and company were at their electric, energetic best. So was the audience which, though far from a sellout, let the band know it was more than welcome in South Florida, an area Costello was playing for only the second time.
It would be nice if Costello makes his visit to South Florida an annual event for again he demonstrated he is one of the most talented and captivating performers in rock today. The author of songs such as 1977's "My Aim Is True" and the current "The Only Flame in Town." Costello is also one of the most consistently good contemporary songwriters. Costello writes, plays and sings with a passion and insight that few of his contemporaries can muster. And it doesn't hurt to have drummer Pete Thomas, bassist Bruce Thomas and keyboard player Steve Nieve (a.k.a. the Attractions) as your backup band. Friday night these guys had the touch — earth, wind or fire — no matter the tempo.
Though Costello and the band can pump it out on speedy songs like "Pump It Up," it was during ballads such as "Shipbuilding," "Peace in Our Time" and "My Aim Is True" that Costello really shined. During the frenetic rock songs, Costello's voice sometimes cracks or the lyrics often get lost. But during the ballads he is in control playing his voice like an instrument, lacing his songs with intense emotion and delicate phrasing.
When Costello, bathed in red or orange light, leans into the microphone and croons "I wanna be loved. I just wanna be loved" you want to believe him. You do believe him. Costello is not swinging for the charts here, he is singing for someone's heart. He is plaintive and vulnerable.
This is not to make light of his up-tempo, thrashing rockers and buzz-saw guitar strumming. For a guy that barely moves on stage, Costello by himself exudes more color and energy than Duran Duran with all its costumes, dancing and video charm. Friday night Costello's magenta Nehru jacket was soaked with sweat, his thick, dark hair matted against his forehead, but it was the songs that were doing the work on the audience. Costello didn't conduct any sort of aerobics exercises save for running on and off the stage. He stood there and sang and played.
Costello may not be the only flame in town but he is one of the brightest.
Nick Lowe, another rock 'n' roll torchbearer and longtime colleague of Costello's, opened the show delivering in lively, spirited fashion several cuts from his new album, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, as well as earlier hits such as "Cruel to be Kind." Lowe's four-piece band includes keyboard player Paul Carrack, a former member of the defunct bands Ace and Squeeze. Carrack performed "How Long" and "Tempted," crowd-pleasing hits he had penned for those earlier bands.
Lowe and company have improved since they last performed in South Florida as opening act for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in early 1982. They were good then, but they were tighter and had more of a kick Friday night. The Sunrise audience got two topflight bands for the price of one.