In the wake of the success of his solo acoustic tour of the States last Spring, Elvis Costello is back for a full-scale jaunt around America, this time with a large back-up band. Actually he calls it his orchestra, and he’s right.
Between them, Jerry Scheff, Larry Knechtel, Stephen Soles, Michael Blair, Marc Ribot and Pete Thomas play enough instruments to warrant a booking at the Carnegie Hall, but in keeping with recent choice of venues, the location is perfect in size for the kind of audience- performer interaction Costello has been going for. The packed Jones Beach theatre is right on the water (“What if the fucking tides comes in?”, he quips) with surprisingly good acoustics if a few too many hungry mosquitos, and a crowd that by the third song is clapping along.
Leavened with a fair sprinkling of old favourites like "Radio, Radio" and "Accidents Will Happen" (the opener), the main bulk of the material in the set comes from the recent album, "Spike", which has already gone gold in the States, having stayed several weeks at No. 1 in the college charts. We get a great sinister version of "Miss Macbeth" and during "God’s Clown" there are some wonderful panto-style dramatics on the guitar from Costello and a tuba oom pah-pahing along with the array of instruments. These at various points in the set include mandolin, accordian, electric double bass, xylophone, coronet, trombone, piano – and probably more! The effect is rich and vibrant without sounding too polished, and there are surprises like a great Costello-rap involving the celestial tale of the "slime" who colourised "Jailhouse Rock" ("Cos Elvis is always in colour") and God’s punishment for the President of Exxon ("Get thee to Alaska and clean it up with thy tongue.")
Then, for about 30 minutes, the musicians go for some cool lemonade ("and if you believe that, you’ll believe anything," he hisses gleefully). After a fierce and eloquent rendition of "Tramp The Dirt Down" there is much cheering for a superb "Red Shoes". The band come back on and we get "American Without Tears", "This Town", "Loveable", "I Want You" and a dynamite sleaze-jazz version of "Watching The Detectives". Exit.
There are no less than three encores, "Alison", "Deep Dark Truth" and "Mystified", with man and band bouncing back for each one, ending with a snarling "Pump It Up" – a playout sure to get all the old fans going, and one that gives the younger members of the audience a chance to tear down those exit staircases belting hell out of several hundred invisible guitars.
Well, they gotta get their kicks somehow, I guess.