Fans of Elvis Costello have come to expect a lot of him, and those in attendance at his show at Forest Hills were not disappointed. After ten albums in eight years — and about as many tours — the danger of becoming stale would overcome a less resourceful performer, but E.C. has never played it safe or rested on his laurels. Allowing soul, country, folk, and blues to inform his work, the new album, Goodbye Cruel World, reflects the diversity of music the man loves to listen to (he lists his hobby as "cultural mugging" in the concert program).
Last summer he and the Attractions toured with a horn section and just this spring Elvis did his whole show solo, so when the four original band members came out thrashing songs like "Lipstick Vogue" and "Mystery Dance" with soaring intensity it was like the old Elvis Costello was back. When he sang "The Only Flame In Town" in a slowed-down, lounge act version, we saw the newer, more considered vocalist he has aspired to be of late. During the encore, when the band did its faster "dance" version, the powerfully infectious yet complex arrangements he has achieved on some of his best new songs was evident.
Stevie Nieve (going under the pseudonym Maurice Worm for the time being) at the keyboards is the perfect musician to flesh out and color Elvis' songs, constantly rearranging his old classics, making them sound as fresh as ever. The sax of Gary Barnacle provided the essential punch on a bunch of them.
Some highlights were Elvis' scathingly ugly version of "Shabby Doll," uncanny verbal gymnastics on "The Greatest Thing," "Clubland," "Deportee's Club," and a brand new song, "I Hope You're Happy Now."
He played most of the songs from his new record — notably "Inch By Inch," which sounds much better live and will undoubtedly become a staple of his performing repertoire.
His solo rendition of "Peace In Our Time," with his rolling folk guitar, brought a burst of applause at its climax — a condemnation of world leaders and particularly fitting a week after the "Spaceman in the White House" joked about bombing Russia.
No one left that beautiful arena doubting that Elvis Costello's flame is still burning bright.
Nick Lowe and his Cowboy Outfit opened the show featuring Paul Carrack, Martin Belmont and Bobby Irwin.
They did a bunch of Nick's songs, including their recent singles, "Half A Boy, Half A Man" and "Raging Eyes," plus a couple of Paul's hits, "Tempted" (with Squeeze) and "How Long" (with Ace).