PITTSBURGH — Elvis Costello may not be known as the King of Rock and Roll, but his Aug. 12 concert at the A.J. Palumbo Center proved that he was more than qualified to wear the crown. Faced with a small and suprisingly quiet audience, Costello and his band, the Rude 5, gave a performance that redefined rock.
This was no mere rock concert, equipped with two guitars, a set of drums and a vocalist; it was an evening with a singer and songwriter who has no comparison. The size and quality of the audience gave the show an atmosphere of being in a secluded club and provided Costello an opportunity to talk and joke with the crowd.
"So, Pittsburgh has a Saturday night after all," he quipped at one point, urging the crowd to life.
As the show progressed, the crowd became more involved, finally rushing the stage at Costello's joking announcement, "You can dance now — if you want to."
Despite the jokes, however, Costello proved that he was serious about his music. The band, equipped with non-traditional rock instruments such an the e-flat horn, tuba and timpani, followed Costello through songs such as the upbeat "Loveable" and the desperate, obsessive "I Want You," setting the stage for Costello's powerful voice and lyrics.
Costello himself reaffirmed his musical strength with every song. He ranged from pure rock classics such as "Accidents will Happen" to the wildly sarcastic "Watching the Detectives," singing with passion and black humor.
He led the crowd in the chorus of "God's Comic," from the Spike album, pausing to give cynical and disturbing observation on God, colorized movies and the afterlife.
The most moving and astounding part of the show, however, was Costello's brief solo set. He belted out the bluesy, soulful "Poisoned Rose" and the unreleased McCartney/Costello collaboration "It's So Like Candy," conveying the messages of desperation and longing in each, and affirming his genius in all musical directions.
Costello closed the show after two encores, saying "Don't you have homes to go to?" The crowd was left with the knowledge that they had seen a new King, and that this one would wear the crown proudly.