At the beginning of his final encore on Saturday night, British rock 'n' roll artist Elvis Costello mounted the stage in Cornell University's Lynah Rink dressed in a red graduation cap and gown.
By the end of the show — which came an hour later — the audience had received a complete musical education.
During Costello's 2½-hour solo performance, he covered many songs from his 12 albums, threw in bits and pieces from artists as divergent as Dionne Warwick, Little Feat, Stevie Wonder and Merle Haggard — and even got the capacity crowd of slightly less than 5,000 to join in singing "New York, New York."
To top off the evening, Costello threw in a TV game-show routine and had members of the audience come on stage to join in the fun.
Heemanshu Bhagat, adviser for the Cornell Concert Commission, which sponsored the event, termed the night "a tremendous success."
The show's opening act was another British rocker, Nick Lowe, who also appeared without a back-up hand and, with only an acoustic guitar, performed a lively medley of his hits.
But the main attraction, without the services of his group "The Attractions," was Costello.
On a night that live music returned to Cornell's hockey rink — and with enough heat trapped in the building to have melted the ice — Costello proved that an aging and pudgy rock star could muster enough energy to match the stamina of a crowd made up largely of college students.
During the first half of his show, Costello played both acoustic and electric guitar, and even harmonica. He alternated his older material, such as "Red Shoes," with more recent songs, such as "Suit of Lights," often melding into familiar favorites by other artists: "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," by the Beatles, was wrapped neatly into Costello's own "New Amsterdam."
At one point, Costello pulled out a music box — "on loan from the Smithsonian Institute" — flipped it open and triggered a pre-recorded rhythm track that served as accompaniment for a number of his songs for the rest of the evening. On a screen at the rear of the stage, he projected his "home movies" — an odd collection of pictures, which served as fanciful introductions to a number of his tunes.
The highlight of this portion of the show was Costello's extended and bitter version of "I Want You."
After having performed for an hour, Costello bid the audience good night and left the stage for the first time — only to return for solo encores and another with Lowe, during which the pair harmonized on the latter's composition "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?"
That was the end of the serious part of the show.
After Costello returned in his cap and gown, he announced himself as "Napoleon Dynamite" and it was show time — Burbank-style.
A curtain behind the stage was drawn to reveal a 20-foot, garishly lit "wheel of fortune" lined with the names of a number of Costello's hits. Donning a top hat, and with the aid of a sleazy-looking assistant, Costello chose audience volunteers who came on stage and spun the wheel, hoping to have it land on the songs of their choice.
"This could be your lucky night," Costello said gleefully, sounding like a cross between Pat Sajak and Richard Dawson. After each spin, volunteers either sat in a makeshift cocktail lounge, or danced in a go-go cage — on stage — while Costello performed chosen songs, which included a country-and-western medley. One "contestant" was called upon to play the drums and was rewarded with her own drum solo.
Costello's rave-up version of "Pump It Up" finally closed the show. The houselights came up, and a hot, exhausted crowd filed out into the cool night air just before midnight.
"Because the show went so well, we'd like to do other concerts in Lynah," the concert commission's Bhagat said. "The problems are the availability of acts and the availability of the hall." The Costello concert, he said, would probably have been in Barton Hall if the gym floor there had not been under renovation.