LOWELL — Throughout his ten-year career Elvis Costello has been several different people — including the angry young man, the confused artist, and a country gentleman.
During each of three sold-out concerts last week at the Orpheum Theater, Costello re-created these different roles and incorporated them into three of the most memorable shows to visit the area in years.
Costello's personalities have always been unpredictable and Thursday, the opening night. he surprised the audience by playing the part of a game show host.
Though the show was billed as solo, Costello introduced his longtime backing band The Attractions and kicked the show off with "Chelsea" and "Red Shoes," setting the pace for a high energy, Vegas-style revue. The stage set-up included a "go-go" cage and the "Spectacular Spinning Songbook," a giant wheel divided into 38 slices, each with a different hit printed on it.
Throughout the night costumed ushers, including special guests Aimee Mann and Jules Shear, would choose members of the audience — Bill Walton was chosen at one point — to spin the wheel, deciding what song would be played.
Despite all the clowning, the spontaneity wasn't lost. As soon as they turned up on the wheel, songs like "Less Than Zero," "High Fidelity," and "Lip Service" were delivered with a rare intensity, while the emotional charge of the slower-paced "Man Out of Time" and "Secondary Modern" were not lost in the gimmickry of the stage set.
The Attractions took the stage for the last segment and lived up to their reputation as being one of the best bands in rock and roll.
In Friday night's show Costello shared the stage with The Confederates, a band with whom he recorded his second to last record, King of America.
Elvis opened with a solo set and guided his audience through "The World of Travel," with a group of slides, projected onto a stage screen, that he claimed to have shot "while on holiday."
The intriguing aspect of The Confederates is that guitarist James Burton and bassist Jerry Scheff played in Elvis Presley's T.C.B. band and the other members worked as top country and western studio musicians: Mitchell Froom, keyboards, Jim Keltner, drums, and percussionist Michael Blair.
Working mostly with material from King of America Burton took control of the type of leads that have made him famous, in songs like "Little Angel" and "Stranger in the House," while Costello played acoustic guitar throughout the night.
The Attractions would rejoin Costello again Saturday night for the last performance in Boston. Enter a drastically different Costello.
Gone was the over-enthusiastic stage patter, the props and the good humored joker. Welcome the no-nonsense, restrained punk with his trademark "Jazz Master" guitar secured to his body.
"Tokyo Storm Watch," from the latest album Blood & Chocolate, was a poor opener. The rambling lyrics and repetitive beat dragged down the song, bringing the energy of the band down with it. Unfortunately the energy was not revived and a weak attempt to salvage the recorded intensity of "No Action" was in vain.
But later the band's selections became tighter, and the crowd's excitement grew with such chestnuts as "Watching the Detectives," "You Belong to Me" and "Alison." The two-hour show featured most of the material from Blood & Chocolate, one of his harshest records to date.
This show ended the after the third encore with the theater trembling from roar of feedback, a trick Elvis used in the late '70s to drown out the requests for more music.