The 2,000 attendees of Elvis Costello's performance Saturday night were in the presence of greatness, unclouded by hype or oversaturated celebrity.
Costello, after all, hadn't played Indianapolis in more than two decades — years that accumulated with minor hits and heaps of critical praise for the Liverpool native.
Exact reasons for Costello's visit to the Murat are unclear. He's not promoting a current album, but did try out some unrecorded material. On the other hand, it's been awhile since he's sought Indy's opinion about anything.
Let's chalk it up to a snazzily restored room or our city on the rise. And be glad he shared one of the finest concerts of the year.
Costello, accompanied by Attractions pianist Steve Nieve, opened the performance with a new number played in the dark. "Alibi Factory" is a perturbed dirge ("I love you as much as I hate your guts") elevated by Costello's brassy, acidic voice. Once the stage lights were put to use, Costello and Nieve delivered full-service theatre for 2½ hours.
Audience members hoping for a once-in-a-lifetime evening were buoyed by "Little Triggers," an early-career archetype for Costello. He's peerless in the category of aching, muscular ballads.
Overall, Costello and Nieve delivered an acoustic complement to their mid-decade electrified tour (which, of course, didn't stop in Indianapolis). Stationed at a grand piano, Nieve hammered symphonic passages and adjusted various electronic gizmos to his left and right to augment Costello's voice and guitar.
"Beyond Belief," one of Costello's greatest studio achievements, came off without a hitch in this setting. Before the song's crushing climax, Nieve's cascading trills accented a portrait of spacing and subtlety. Costello wrapped his first set (several encores followed) with a trio of songs guaranteed to generate goosebumps. "Radio Sweetheart" segued to a joyous reading of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said," punctuated by the hall-of-famer "Alison."
The defiant songwriter also was lumped with the first crop of UK punks, and Saturday's acoustic rendition of "Chelsea" could fire up a more purposeful mosh pit than a month's worth of Offspring shows.
Two Costello songs, "A Teacher's Tale (Oh, Well)" and "Soul for Hire," received their world premiere Saturday.
Costello portrayed a teacher and public defender in the songs of resignation not always a characteristic of his work. The tunes will appear in an up coming film titled Prison Song co-written by A Tribe Called guest's Q-Tip.