Cincinnati — Elvis Costello and the Attractions, with guest Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, entertained a crowd of 6,300 Saturday night in Cincinnati's new Riverbend Music Center.
The facility is located about 15 minutes Southeast of the downtown area (about a two hour drive from Indianapolis) inside Coney Island, a lovely recreation center featuring a massive pool, water slides and boating on the Ohio River.
Built as the summer home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Riverbend is a handsome outdoor venue with seating in the pavilion (under a covered roof) for 5,000 and lawn seating for an additional 5,000. Its well-respected acoustic design was put to the test with high volume rock 'n' roll, and it came through with high marks.
Elvis Costello, who was celebrating his 30th birthday at the time, delivered the sort of long, powerfully emotional show that has made him a legend among his loyal followers. Backed by the Attractions, featuring Steve Nieve on keyboards (Nieve is listed as "Maurice Worm" on Costello's current Goodbye Cruel World LP). Costello played just shy of two hours, including two strong encores.
Costello, no longer the bad boy of yesteryear, was surprisingly talkative throughout the show, apologizing for some technical problems (which were soon remedied), introducing songs and his band, and graciously accepting the crowd's melodic birthday greetings.
"Now that I know you can sing I might call on you all later, now that I'm so old and all that," he joked.
The crowd did sing along often, increasing the volume considerably on songs like "Watching the Detectives" and "Mystery Dance."
But Costello, dressed in a gray suit and trademark red patent leather loafers, generally presents material other than his old hits. Indeed, Costello thrives on performing the less familar material from his albums, a fact which seems to delight the more serious fans.
Costello's audience came appropriately prepared for this, and gave him enthusiastic ovations throughout the show.
Costello dedicated a song "to the kind of music played about 30 years ago by people who played red guitars like this one (referring to the one strapped around his neck) and had saxophones in the band."
What he meant was bands that took their music and messages seriously, adding a mocking reference to Twisted Sister and its "Were Not Gonna Take It" hit. He continued, "We'd like to sing this particuarly spiteful thing," introducing "Worthless Thing," the song which blasts cable television from Goodbye Cruel World.
He followed that with the first of a few cover songs played that night, the old Byrds hit, "So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star." Later he payed homage to his namesake with a version of "Little Sister" that would have taught Presley a thing or two about style. Also new for him (or perhaps "borrowed") was a tune apparently titled "Since I Lost You." Introducing it, Costello noted. "We worked rather long to learn this new song for you ... oh yes. we did." It sounded well-rehearsed and brimmed with emotion.
Costello wound down the set with "Clubland," "Inch by Inch" and "The Deportees Club," before returning solo for an encore.
The songs he chose, like "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," were desperately romantic and beautifully delivered from that solo stance. He closed with "Peace in Our Time," adjusting a line to say, "There's a light over Cincinnati burning brighter."
The Attractions rejoined him for an extended second encore that started with "Alison," which featured additional lyrics. "The Only Flame in Town," "Everyday I Write the Book," "Getting Mighty Crowded" and "Pump it Up" (also with additional lyrics) provided the final selections.
Nick Lowe, looking like an elder statesman of rock 'n' roll with his gray hair and neatly tailored suit, also delivered a strong show.
Joined by Paul Carrack (formerly of Squeeze) on keyboards, he and Cowboy Outfit performed a 40-minute set.
Among the best oldies was "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock 'n' Roll." Carrack took lead after that with the "Tempted," a hit with Squeeze.
Lowe dedicated a new song, "The Rose of England," to Costello in honor of his birthday. "That was a little romantic interlude before the moron stuff starts again," he jested afterward. leading into the rocking "Raging Eyes."
His new single, "Half a Boy and Half a Man," featured fine keyboard work from Carrack, who also performed lead duties on "I Need You" and "How Long Has This Been Going On?" The latter, the hit for Ace which introduced Carrack to America 10 years ago was, Carrack noted, a special request from the birthday boy.
Lowe closed his set with "Burning For You." It was very well done and the fans jumped to offer an ovation. But when the band did not return and the house lights quickly snapped on, the cheering turned to disappointed boos.