Performing in the one-quarter full arena, Elvis Costello went for as much intimacy as possible. He quickly invited the audience to the front of the stage, then turned on a performance of such passion and power that you almost forgot the rows of empty seats court. side, below the curtained-off upper section.
Costello, an ample figure with long hair, full beard and granny shades more suited to an early '70s John Lennon, is far removed from the skinny, angry New Wave rocker with oversized glasses who burst on to the music scene 14 years ago. On Monday the Anglo-Irishman wooed and won his 2800 audience with a generosity of spirit and performance he even blew them a kiss at one point.
His voice, though still stretched to the limit on more strident material, has grown deeper and richer. It made his ballad singing a joy on numbers such as "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" and countryfied "Almost Blue." And it was a classy ballad bracket that provided the concert highlight, with segueing arrangements of the tender "So Like Candy" (from the new Mighty Like a Rose album), urgent "I Want 'You" and a polished rendition of the torch standard "The Very Thought of You."
Providing an assured backing were former Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, with US session aces Larry Knechtel on keyboards and bassist Jerry Scheff (who played with the original Elvis). Regular guitarist Marc Ribot was missing on the antipodean tour, but Costello picked up the lead instrumental duties impressively, if sometimes over-enthusiastically.
Melbourne was the last stop in a five-month world odyssey and the musicians were determined to let their hair down in a two-hour concert that reached its climax with four encores. They played with relish, digging out favorites like "Oliver's Army," "Veronica" and "Alison," airing the new, slyly subversive hit, "The Other Side of Summer" pumping out R&B classics by Willie Dixon and Little Richard, and thrashing the more vituperative Costello originals.
The irony of linking "Watching The Detectives" to the anti-hanging "Let Him Dangle" was — well — stretching it, but you had to admire Costello for re-fashioning the former in jazzy gear.
Richard Pleasance delivered an occasionally loose but convincing opening act that signalled his songwriting strengths. Overall, this was one of the more memorable concerts I have seen. The fact that It was unexpected heightened the pleasure.