On his Almost Alone tour with longtime buddy Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello came to Washington last week supporting his Warner Brothers debut Spike. Having now achieved Dylan-height, Costello created his brilliance in public by single-handedly bringing down the sellout house.
Costello entered with an acoustic guitar and gave a large showman's bow to start the show. The role of the Beloved Entertainer, written under his grinning face on the cover of the new LP, seems to be the role he has undertaken. While his commentary has not been tamed, his Addison and Steele approach gets it across better. He played many standard favorites from his sizable repertoire, such as "Accidents Will Happen," "(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding," "Watching the Detectives," and his cover of the Animals tune "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," during which the crowd spontaneously sang the melody.
During a great version of "New Amsterdam," Costello slipped into the Beatles "Hide Your Love Away," which was an interesting tribute to Paul McCartney, (co-writer of "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws and Claws"). From the new record, Elvis performed most of the first side, including an interesting commentary in the middle of "God's Comic." ("God's going to be interviewed on Geraldo Rivera next week.")
The record, as well as the tour, seems to be a summary of what he has done as an artist as well as a project in which Costello comes to terms with himself. By not touring with the Attractions, the focus of the show is directed on the material, his singing, and his guitar playing. The record brings together every style that Costello previously spent whole records exploring, as if a final report for his audience on what he has found in his studies. Working with the likes of Roger Mcguin, Paul McCartney, Chrissie Hynd, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, this musical summary could easily be the conclusion to a brilliant career, although I certainly hope it is not.
While many are arguing that Spike is Costello's best record, I feel that it is a moot point. There is material on the record which is some of Costello's best, but as a whole I don't feel that it has the coherent power of King of America, or the earlier masterpiece This Year's Model. I find it bothersome, however, when critics expound on their objective ideas about what Costello's best work is. To each his own, so don't let some music critic tell you what Costello's best work is. Go out and decide for yourself.
The brilliant showman ended this show as the tacky Napoleon Dynamite, doing requests from the audience. He played "Alison," a song which he had refused to do for a long time. This acceptance of what he has done was typical of his performance as well as the record The highlight of the evening was probably when he did a version of "Pump it Up," set to a go-go beat that was very reminiscent of Prince's "Sign O The Times" and let him break out the old Jazz Master and kick in some distorted feedback. It was a typical Costello exit which left everyone baffled as to where the hell that fit into the show. Let em dangle, Elvis.