Geek, game show host or genius?
Elvis Costello showed his audience of about 3,000 Thursday in the MSU Auditorium that he is a little of each.
After an eight-song, acoustic guitar set by Nick Lowe, longtime Costello friend, Costello took the stage for a two-hour show.
He looked for all the world the part of the geek: receding hairline, brow beaded with sweat, his trademark black-rimmed glasses and black shirt cuffs sticking out from the sleeves of his not-quite-tailored tan jacket.
But once he strummed his guitar and started singing "Accidents Will Happen," the genius was revealed.
Except for the show-closing "Pump It Up," where Costello used an electric guitar and synthetic percussion, the set's 22 songs were entirely acoustic.
That's a wide departure from the early, '80s, when Costello toured with the Attractions, rarely took time to speak to the audience and pumped it out as fast and as loudly as possible.
In his acoustic incarnation, Costello has found the perfect showcase for lyrics from haunting tales to political commentary to acerbic observations of life.
The new Costello seemed to delight the audience of students and longtime fans.
Costello's set was surprisingly light on material from his new album, Spike. He chose "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," "God's Comic," the current hit "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws and Claws."
After jamming so hard on "Fade Away" that he broke a guitar string, Costello invited Lowe back for "a couple of songs we thieve from each other." The two played "Indoor Fireworks" and "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding?"
To end the show, the geeky-genius-turned-game-show-host came on stage in a velour jacket, carrying a pitchfork and accompanied by a giant satin heart, split down the middle as if broken.
He introduced himself as Monsignor Napoleon Dynamite. As a man dressed as a werewolf chose the first "sinner" from the crowd, Msgr. Dynamite explained the show's premise: The sinner would pluck one of the "13½ Deadly Sins" from the heart, then choose a song he or she wanted to hear.
The sins included "awesomeness," "girls, girls, girls," "lust," and "getting caught again." The songs included "Alison," "Everyday I Write the Book," "Man Out of Time" and "Pump It Up."
For good measure, Costello tossed in a short rendition of "Happy Birthday" for an audience "sinner" named Angie. That's not something the Costello of the early '80s probably would have done.
It seems the geeky genius has grown up, and his music with him.