"Oh, 1 just don't know where to begin ..." sang Elvis Costello to open his sold out show in the GW Smith Center Tuesday night. The confusion Costello addressed in his opening song, "Accidents Will Happen," was the only bit of indecision that occurred all night.
The 4,080 in attendance, including 2,100 GW ticket-holders — second all-time to 1983's Clash show — saw a show that went off without a hitch, thanks to the Program Board, Smith Center staff, and the excellent Costello.
"Probably the best aspect of the show was that when you looked out into the crowd, you saw more than 2,000 members of the GW community," PB Chairman Paul Aronsohn said. "That gives meaning to the concept of campus life."
"I couldn't have asked for a better night," PB Concert Chair Simone Costanzo said. "The people working for me made everything work."
"PB gets a pat on the back. They did a great job," Smith Center Director Michael Pellets said.
Costello last performed in D.C. in the spring of 1987 at Georgetown University. There, as he did Tuesday, Costello performed solo with Nick Lowe opening. One of the great debates besides the "chicken or the egg?" or "Mary Ann or Ginger?" is "Was Elvis Costello's show at Georgetown good or bad?" I saw him two years ago and was disappointed. However, Tuesday night's performance, while not too much different from the GU show, was much better.
Sure, this time I knew what to expect when the words "Elvis Costello Solo" were involved, yet this show did not seem to drag like the one two years ago did. A stronger, more upbeat release to support Spike allowed him to keep the pace up; in addition, this album is more suited to a solo performance. This fine album led to this show being better than 1987's.
Costello, dressed in a black Western-cut outfit, complete with rhinestone bolo tie, followed "Accidents Will Happen" with "Temptation" off Get Happy!. Early on, Costello established his voice as a partner to his acoustic guitar. By accenting parts of his songs through harsh or gentle strums of his guitar or changes in his vocal emotion, Costello was able to give many of the songs a new feel.
A good example of this was Costello's upbeat, intense version of "Watching the Detectives." The song's climax, "It nearly took a miracle to get you to stay. / It only took my little fingers to blow you away" was met with a hard note and abrupt, intense pause while the crowd erupted—truly one of the show's highlights.
Next came some of Costello's commentary, where he made some cracks about D.C.: "I hear there was a big round of power lunches, wasn't there," he said. While playing "The Big Light" off 1986's King of America, he had the audience join in on vocals, but it couldn't keep the singing up. "I know the air here isn't too pure," he quipped. "The air is completely soiled by lies."
Spike's "God's Comic" comedy followed when Costello took sonic jabs at religion as well as the media. He spoke of an "interview between God and Geraldo Rivera ... Geraldo is going to speak to God like he did to Charles Manson." Mocking Geraldo, Costello said, "You think you're pretty tough."
After singing about God sitting on a waterbed listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem, Costello said, "God can always get tickets to Phantom of the Opera." Costello hasn't mellowed with age.
Other highlights included "New Amsterdam," weaved around The Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," as well as "Uncomplicated" off Blood and Chocolate, which included a few lines of the classic "Not Fade Away."
After a 50-minute first set, Costello returned with Lowe to perform "the other Elvis' " rocking "(Marie's the Name) His Latest flame" and Lowe's gift to Costello, "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
Costello then returned to the stage, donning a "lounge-lizard" blazer and his Monseigneur Napoleon Dynamite persona to present the "Broken Heart of Unknown Deadly Sins." Here Costello, I mean Dynamite, told of a wolf that was let loose to roam in the audience and bring people on stage to choose one of the 13-and-a-half deadly sins (the original 7 plus 6-and-a-half new ones).
After closing their eyes and running their hands over the heart, fans got to choose a sin, then request a song. The four females brought up on stage chose the sins of "Awesomeness ... that is an awesome shift," "Distortion ... a kinder, gentler sin," "Sincerity .., I mean that sincerely," "Post ... modern," "Doing lunch" and "Lust." The lucky fans requested the obligatory "Alison," "Everyday I Write the Book" "I'll Wear it Proudly" and "Pump it Up," where Costello played over a backing track and stuck in bits of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and The Beatles' "Revolution."
Costello ended the one hour and 50 minute show with "Tramp the Dirt Down," a mellow, yet emotional song off Spike that rips British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Costello sings, "When England was the whore of the world / Margaret was her madam." Costello's emotion during this song made this cut seem like this was his reason for returning to the stage after two years. He still has something important to say and wants to say it loudly.
Not many performers could captivate an audience like Costello did last Tuesday. Where some can get by on having a big sound and wild run-around; the-stage-show, Costello takes the hard road by using only his words and emotion to succeed.
Speaking about the future of GW concerts, Costanzo said, "It's great that finally the Smith Center has put itself back on the map and that GW, from this show, is really going to explode again by doing a lot more things for students in this venue; so things next year will continue like they used to be. I feel like this is a real accomplishment for the Program Board."
If more shows like Elvis Costello's can make their way to GW, student life will explode as well.