Having emerged as one of the most perceptive, intelligent and provocative performers in rock over the last four years, Elvis Costello's career appears to be suffering a momentary loss of momentum. His earlier persona as a perpetual victim of circumstances bent on revenge has been tempered somewhat in the wake of a host of bespectacled and irate singer/songwriters bearing the flag of suburban mediocrities.
Costello's last album, Get Happy, which flirted with soul music idioms, was a necessary and astutely crafted departure from his established style which confirmed his prodigious writing skills, but vanished from the charts almost as soon as it arrived.
Time has made Costello more sure of his own artistry — an assurance which has had the duel consequences of encouraging him to take chances with his songwriting, pulling out melodic phrases as embellishments which would have been unthinkable three years ago; but with that self assurance has come a loss of the manic, driven quality which made Costello such a compelling performer. Once an act of exorcism, his performance now displays well rounded if occasionally misplaced perfectionism.
The simple but elegant duet for voice and piano which opened the show provided an arresting glimpse of Costello's range and sophistication; but from then on he and his band tended to tackle everything at much the same brisk, edgy pace which may have been perfectly suited to new songs like "Lovers Walk" and "From a Whisper to a Scream," which take the listener by force and show that ruthless power of the attractions, but which tended to blunt the subtlety of songs like "Accidents Will Happen."
A curious mixture of the exciting and the frustrating, one senses that Costello's powers as a writer have outgrown the limitations of his surroundings in performance and that he now needs greater musical depth to do his material justice. Nowadays, the studio rather than the stage is a better setting for his talent.