There was little doubt who was in command when Elvis Costello and his troops stormed into Grace Hall Thursday night. Costello confidently sprung six totally new songs on the 2,500 rabid followers, in contrast to the ten favorites he performed. The crowd reacted to every spasm of his brief but fast-paced set with a passion that was truly uncharacteristic of Grace Hall audiences.
In a year's time, Costello has taken on a seething new chameleon stage presence that gives his performance infinitely more thrust. He seems less bitter and more triumphant. He even managed a sly grin or two. He is using his recent popularity to the fullest advantage. But where will he stop?
Costello used some new and subtle effects to project some very startling notions. The most impressive of these was the use of a series of three footlights to transform him into different characters. The first of these was achieved with a scarlet light which played off his metallic silver jacket to create a devilish form. You could even detect horns made by the shadows of his oddball hairdo.
Next, a green light turned him into a martian, complete with shadowy antennae. Finally, and most subtly, was the pale white light, which ascented from the floor with precision to form a neat little moustache, turning him into a youthful Hitler. He managed this last effect during the most powerful song of the set, the previously unrecorded "Almost Human."
It is hard to pinpoint Costello's drawing power since he is not really a good showman in the classic sense. As he slung his guitar over his shoulder like a gun, it was evident that this was no show — it was as assault. His reluctance to stray from his malicious image has given him even more credibility than the most long-lived rock performers.
Costello's encore came as a surprise, after the house lights had already clicked on and the crowd had begun to straggle out. But the encore was the best part of the show. First he pumped up the audience with a driving version of "Pump It Up" and then, when he had his listeners most vulnerable, he put them down.
"You belong to me," he cried. "Your eyes are asking, your mouth is silent, the things you see are getting hard to swallow, you're easily led but you're much too scared to follow" — he described the audience and the awesome power he has over it. This is the lure of Elvis Costello.
He alluded to the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in leading up to "Accidents Will Happen." a song from his new album. "It's the damage that we do and never know, it's the words that we don't say that scare me so," he yelled. His own words ring true when you stop to ponder his intentions. Elvis Costello, it's the words that you don't say that scare me so.
As for the Rubinoos. They endured a very frustrating warm-up set by flaunting their guitar wizardry (gizardry?) They were not well received; but never gave up as the lead singer pleaded for signs of approval. They were actually rather good — very clean yet manical new-wave dinosaur music, you might call it.