Is Elvis Costello getting happy? The once-angry young man who wrote and sang of such bitter subjects as rejection, frustration and a disloyal world is now giving interviews. He has also enclosed lyric sheets in his albums and sounds positively pleasant in his newest and most commercially appealing album, Goodbye Cruel World.
In a two-night engagement at the Sunrise Musical Theatre, Elvis Costello and The Attractions seemed to have little to protest against. They presented a nonstop succession of his classic favorites from his first few albums and highlights from his more recent recordings.
And while the anger and pent-up frustration may have softened, Costello's melodic and engrossing music now has more room to stand on its own merits.
Always a powerful musical figure who refused to be categorized, Costello is at a point in his career when he needn't protest any longer. Those who loved Costello in the late '70s can still find the appeal that first attracted them in his passionate lyrics and the complex structure of his unusually varied music. Costello is now letting the music speak for itself.
Dressed in a high-buttoned pink jacket, black slacks and red shoes, Costello stood calmly behind the microphone at Sunrise Friday, saying little between songs but acting almost charmingly polite when he did speak. His voice, once sometimes criticized as raspy and coarse, is now tuned to a smooth, even crooning quality. Behind him, the four Attractions, though a little looser and less intense than they were a few years back, are still an aggressive, hard-hitting unit.
Together, they carried the crowd through a tight-paced set of rock and soulful blues, plaintive ballads and funky polished pop, displaying once again the diversity and underestimated talent of this musical genius.
Costello's former producer, guitarist Nick Lowe, opened the show (on time, of all things) with a one-hour set of countrified '50s rock 'n' roll. Lowe and band were fine, if a bit subdued, in their performance of Lowe's biggest solo hit, "Cruel to Be Kind," and other foot-tapping numbers.
And starting the evening off right was the presence of Paul Carrack (of the bands Ace and Squeeze), who led Lowe's band through his solo hit "I Need You" and the Ace classic "How Long Has This Been Going On?"