It's dangerous when an artist known for writing songs that have gobbed spitballs at a ridiculous world suddenly decides
that the audience is OK after all, and the last artist to plead guilty to this charge would be Elvis Costello.
During his two-hour, 20-song set at the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach Saturday night, Costello and his tight backing band (keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Davey Faragher, drummer Pete Thomas) played a well-chosen mix of crowd pleasers such as "Alison" and "Accidents Will Happen" and selections from his recent album, the bracing, vital When I Was Cruel.
While the Gleason's acoustics have never been kind to rock acts, at least the hollow sound dovetailed with the full frontal assault the band inflicted on "Tear Off Your Own Head" and "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea." Both of these seemed to indict an audience that, at first, greeted Costello as if he were a well-behaved cabaret entertainer who wouldn't spill their gin and tonics.
The evening's low point came during Costello's performance of "I Want You," a violent, diseased valentine that might be his greatest song. The song turned into Grand Guignol, as Costello minced and mimed breathlessly while a handful of overenthusiastic fans egged him on, oblivious to the song's queasy mixture of camp and honesty.
As usual, Steve Nieve's keyboards were Costello's most effective weapon, whether echoing cavernously around Costello's shattering rendition of "I Wanna Be Loved" or coughing up cheesy lounge-band licks on "Watching The Detectives."
Such was the crowd's affection for Costello that a third of the orchestra crowd rushed to the front and stayed there as soon as he launched into the two-chord wonder "Uncomplicated" (on which he demonstrated his mastery of ugly, harsh guitar sounds). And while it was weird to watch couples sway in place to a screed like "Clubland," Costello compensated with full-throated renditions of "Tart" and a stunning medley of "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" and Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got A Hold On Me."
It's in finding these buried correspondences between artists as dissimilar as Aretha Franklin and Tricky (whose hazy soundscapes Costello borrowed for When I Was Cruel) that Costello reaffirms his ability to amaze and anger fans — in short, like any true punk.
Laura Cantrell's brief opening set consisted of sweet, vulnerable offerings from her latest album When The Roses Bloom Again.