Elvis Costello and the Attraction's appearance at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry was clearly a labor of love, sandwiched as it was between dates in New York and Paris. Costello obviously had personal reasons for playing the Opry; for the crowd, the hall's superb acoustics provided an opportunity to hear the band under the best possible circumstances.
The group opened with an impressive delivery of three songs from Armed Forces, "Accidents Will Happen," "Green Shirt" and "Oliver's Army," highlighted by Steve Neive's keyboards which have become more and more brilliant in their quirkiness and the always solid backing of Thomas and Thomas. Early on, Costello introduced "Radio Radio" by saying, "We've been looking for another reason to do this song and I think you'll see why in a few minutes." This remark set the stage for the appearance of country Doobie John Mcfee on steel guitar and the performance of nearly every song on Almost Blue. The crowd was slightly disinterested, perhaps suffering from culture shock — Nashville's new wave kids are none too proud of their town's heritage — but Costello remarkably worked a minor miracle. With no obvious grandstanding, he subtly won the crowd over by the sheer earnestness of his performance.
After a short intermission, Costello and group returned for what proved to be an awesome show in itself: a nearly two hour performance highlighted by songs from Trust, a selection of quasi-standards which demonstrated Costello's new concentration on vocal expression (an achingly beautiful performance of the song "Almost Blue" was a standout) and a generous supply of new material such as "Pidgin English" and "Human Hands," which indicate that Costello's songwriting has not by any means stagnated.
The encore provided further surprises including a beautiful interpretation of Sam and Dave's original "I Can't Stand Up," Mcfee's lovely guitar work on "Alison" and a rousing "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding." Whatever personal pleasure Costello gained from playing the Opry he clearly returned more than his share.