Elvis Costello is one of the most talented artists to emerge in the past decade.
Since his debut in 1978, Costello has recorded 12 excellent albums which touch on a myriad of styles, including country, punk, soul and power pop. His work is consistently good, and usually great.
His songs have been recorded by everyone from Dave Edmunds and Linda Ronstadt to George Jones (Costello wrote one for Frank Sinatra, but Ol' Blue Eyes didn't record it), and his influence is evident in every angry young man with a guitar to make a record in the 1980s.
Costello's live shows are wonderful. Just as he has experimented with a number of styles, musicians and producers on his recorded work, Costello also experiments on talir.
His experiments never fail. By modifying arrangements, switching personnel and choosing different periods to highlight from his extensive repertoire, Costello keeps his shows interesting to devout fans while not alienating those who come to hear MTV hits like "Everyday I Write the Book."
Costello took his experimentation to an extreme last fall in London when he did a series of shows using a different format each night.
The most clever idea this master of innovation came up with for that Blood and Chocolate tour was his roulette wheel. Like a congenial game show host, Costello invited audience members to spin the colorful wheel, and whatever song the pointer settled on was dutifully performed.
Things in New Orleans may not get that bizarre when Elvis Costello appears at the Municipal Auditorium Thursday, but it's bound to be a great show.
His first show in New Orleans took place May 3, 1979, at Jed's, formerly on the corner of Oak and Dante streets. Costello was on tour to promote his third album, Armed Forces, which mixed wall-of-sound production with a punk pace and Costello's extraordinary word play.
The story of the performance has become a legend, not so much because of Costello's fabulous talents, but because May 3 marked nearly the worst flood New Orleans has seen in recent years.
The story that has circulated since then is that about 100 people drove the flooded streets (Canal Street was 10 feet under) and stood in ankle-deep water (Jed's had six inches), just to see Elvis.
Costello's second appearance in the Crescent City was in January 1981. He played at a place called the Warehouse, which was — you guessed it! — an empty warehouse on Tchoupitoulas. Way back when, it was the hot spot for concerts. You name it: the Police, Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat, the Clash, Alice Cooper.... They all played the Warehouse.
Squeeze opened the show, and they were wonderful. The place was packed with fledgling punks (Elvis Costello was punk for New Orleans) dressed in their thrift-shop best. Costello and his band, the Attractions, were jubilant and jumped all over.
Three years later, at the World's Fair, the show was more subdued but still excellent. Costello had just released his worst album (which is not to say it was bad), but the songs all sounded much better live. The material had been rearranged to sound more psychedelic, in the style of Costello's 1982 concept album, Imperial Bedroom.
Costello's performance Thursday is expected to be fantastic for a number of reasons.
Costello's last album, Blood and Chocolate, is the best work he has put out in years. After a series of albums flirting with country music and soul, Costello has finally returned to his powerful rock style.
Also, Costello is in love. He recently married Cait O'Rirdan, the bassist for the Irish folk-punk band the Pogues. People who are in love always play great shows.
On top of all that, long-time Costello associate Nick Lowe will be playing bass on this tour. Lowe, who produced Costello's first six albums, has worked in such bands as Rockpile and Brinsley Schwartz, and had a minor hit with his solo tune "Cruel to be Kind." (He also married Johnny Cash's daughter.)
Tickets are not only still on sale, but also are general admission, which any avid rock fan knows are the best kind, because you can pawn your watch the day before the show and still get good seats.
Besides, Costello will be playing the small side of the Municipal Auditorium, so event late-comers have a good chance of being near his eminence.
Elvis is King!