"I'm going to do something you've never seen me do before," Elvis Costello told the audience at Washington, D.C's Constitution Hall as he unstrapped his trusty Telecaster. "It's not a strip-tease, either, he added, and walked over to a concert grand.
Some of the crowd chuckled at the strip-tease remark, but nobody laughed when he sat down at the piano, the version of "Shot With His Own
Gun" which followed was received with rapt enthusiasm.
Costello was doing a lot of things he hadn't done before, the most obvious being his tour as a solo act. (A full-scale tour with the Attractions is scheduled for the summer.) He's flirted with unaccompanied performance in the past, but this show was heavily geared toward novelty. Among other
things, Costello premiered a half-dozen new numbers, offered a strikingly uncluttered reading of Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away," and demonstrated the similarity between his own "Just A Memory" and Bacharach & David's "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head."
Entertainment value aside, the one-man show provided a few clues to Costello's creative process. His deft Debussian accompaniment on "Shot With His Own Gun" and colorfully concise Rhodes piano part for "Motel Matches" argued strongly that piano, not guitar, is Costello's main instrument. His vocal phrasing on "Kid About It" and "Shipbuilding" — between jazzy inflection and stolid country crooning — was far preferable to last tour's Sinatra impression. Costello remains an artist whose chief interest is musical growth, not necessarily commercial success.