Elvis Costello's recent sojourn into country music was a classic case of personal taste overwhelming business sense, but I'm not complaining. It's that sort of stubborn chance-taking that can inject new life into pop music. At the Sports Arena, he stuck fiercely to a long set of country tunes and overcame the LP's timidity with his vocal and instrumental fervor.
As for his other material — trips through the psychological quagmires of love, pain and the hard life — Elvis & the Attractions were in top form, with the hits complemented by strong new tunes.
Costello has the vocal inflections and control of a master. Renditions of Otis Redding's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," "Alison" and "Almost Blue" dripped with emotion and style. and the rockers boasted vocal wonders. In "Oliver's Army" he gave each reading of the line "And I would rather be anywhere else than here today" a slightly different, completely right phrasing and feel, the way Clapton works through six ways of resolving a lead through one chord change.
Costello was loose, talking occasionally with the crowd, but his sense of resolve and purpose were highly apparent; he came to play. The combination of strong personal vision and conviction made the concert. like Costello's albums, showcases of the possibilities of rock. One of the best of the new year.