Elvis Costello has mellowed considerably in recent years, but he was up to some of his old tricks during his recent five-night tour de force at the Beverly Theatre. And we couldn't help but notice that most of Elvis' barbs were directed at The Times, which first ran a review by critic Robert Hilburn chiding Costello for a predictable opening night "greatest hits" set, and followed that with a piece critical of Costello's photographers ban during his concerts.
During Friday's show, Costello playfully flashed a "request" sign at the front of the stage, then quickly turned it off, saying "I know what happens when I do that. I get a bad review from Robert Hilburn."
A few songs later, Costello put down his guitar and strolled over to the side of the stage, where he prompted a volley of laughter by saying, "Let's talk about this Hilburn guy. Bob, are you here tonight?" Costello then pointed to his cheek and cooed, "Come up and give me a kiss." With the review still on his mind, he groaned, "Have you ever been to one of my shows where maybe I didn't play a couple of songs you wanted to hear? So instead, I played all the songs everyone wanted to hear and I'm still wrong!"
Saturday's show offered more surprises. Instead of making his entrance from the stage, Costello strode up the aisle, armed with a copy of that day's Calendar section, which featured a drawing of Elvis in performance. After making a few disparaging remarks about the likeness ("obviously this was drawn from memory"), Elvis asked several fans in the front-row how much their tickets cost. Told they paid $22.50, he said "If you came here and there were 15 Times photographers in front of you, wouldn't you think I'd have to give you about $10 back?" And with that, Costello produced a $10 bill, handing it to the nearest concertgoer. The crowd cheered again.
But let's go back to Friday night for perhaps Costello's best wisecrack. Alluding to Hilburn's fondness for a certain working-class rock hero, Costello complained: "I have friends who can't get a gig in town because they don't sound like Bruce Springsteen," quickly adding: "Now, I have nothing against Springsteen. I don't want to see a headline saying, 'Elvis Blasts Bruce!' "
Don't worry, Elvis. We'd never stoop that low.