Orange County Register, September 11, 1989

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A practiced, versatile Elvis Costello
proves that his aim is still true

Barbara O'Dair

Elvis Costello with The Rude 5 / Irvine Meadow Amphitheatre

The very nerdy Brit who became a rock institution if not exactly a pop star as punk was cresting looked unlikely back then, more a brunet ostrich than the swivel-hipped cat whose name he borrowed. But young Elvis Costello's extra-clever wordplay and catchy tunes — delivered by a hot band called The Attractions — caught on here, and he rode atop the new wave onto our shores.

He could have been a flash-in-the-pan sensation, cooled down, by the third record or so, in the dying rock movement of the late '70s.

But Costello prevailed and grew. In concert, his passion seems remarkably undimmed when performing material he wrote more than a decade ago. If his newer songs often deliver less fever and more polish, chalk it up to seasoning.

Onstage Saturday night, dressed like a priest or an undertaker in a long black coat, his skinny legs scissoring in tight black trousers as he gave us just a taste of his Chuck Berry duckwalk, his thick, black-rimmed specs wedged onto his face, Costello was still a ball of fury, but in equal portions, too, the stand-up comedian and the thoughtful host. He's grown up, and he wears it well.

In a 2-hour-20-minute show the almost sold-out crowd was taken from "Alison" to "Veronica" in a set that drew from just about all of Costello's recordings, with an emphasis on his last and moderately selling LP Spike, as well as snatches of others' tunes and one full-fledged cover, now a Costello standard, "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."

Over the years, Costello's voice has flexed and grown rich, and Saturday night it was at its finest expressive and throaty. Through sheer determination, it would seem, Costello can now croon with the best of them. His tricky lyrics were well-enunciated or slurred as style called for.

Costello's versatility and his way of filtering everything through his own sensibility has made his forays into country-Western, light blues, avant-garde jazz and Gaelic folk seem more than novelties.

After warming up with the popular "Accidents Will Happen," Costello then alluded to his true predecessor, Bob Dylan — in a nod perhaps to Dylan's show the night before around the corner at Pacific Amphitheatre with Costello's friends The Pogues — when he grafted a verse of "Tangled Up in Blue" onto the next song, "Brilliant Mistake."

This triggered a series of playfully sneaky inserts throughout the show: a poky "I'm a Believer" from the Monkees, "Let It All Hang Down" from Van Morrison. An encore of "Alison" included a bit from "Tears of a Clown" as well as a piece from Costello's own "Clowntime Is Over."

All of which made the show fun and somewhat unpredictable. As did new arrangements of old standards: a jazzy "Clubland," a spacy, paranoid "Watching the Detectives," a scat-sung "Let Him Dangle," on which the guitar-play was akin to rabid knife-sharpening. There were big-band arrangements and times when the ensemble — six, including drummer Pete Thomas from The Attractions, a keyboardist, a timpani player, a mandolin player who sang harmony and occasionally played trombone, a bass player who doubled on tuba and an electric guitarist who doubled on trumpet, in addition to Costello and his guitar sounded like a hurdy-gurdy one-man band.

During "God's Comic," Costello ran through a routine that was just as pointedly political as any track on 1979's Armed Forces. "Heaven is a big long place, kind of like Orange County," he said. "Except in heaven you find every color and persuasion there. Even Democrats!"

Then, as the band left the stage for Costello's solo set, he said, "The boys are breaking for a lemonade," adding, "if you believe that, then you'll believe that it was only this week Reagan needed to have a brain operation!"

He ended the show with the resounding "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding," and came back for a half-dozen encores, climaxing with a rowdy, thumping "Pump It Up."

Seeing Costello flourish 13 years after he hit with My Aim Is True is oddly reassuring: He didn't burn out, he didn't fade away, he didn't die. He took his substantial success from the latter half of the '70s and early '80s and worked it over, worried and stretched his natural pop inclinations, love of modern musical traditions — from country-Western to cocktail jazz — and impassioned rebel stance into new combinations, some of which slipped by nearly unnoticed, some of which took us by surprise.

Costello's graceful ascension from snarly, jilted, angry young man to sophisticated songwriter while retaining his ire and precisely locating his targets, signals a smartness and depth that few in rock ever find. These days Costello is happily collaborating with Paul McCartney — how come this seems so right?

Now he should really do a modern opera.

Tags: Irvine Meadows AmphitheatreIrvineThe Rude 5Jerry ScheffLarry KnechtelSteven SolesMichael BlairMarc RibotPete ThomasThe AttractionsChuck BerryAlisonVeronicaAccidents Will HappenBob DylanThe PoguesTangled Up In BlueBrilliant MistakeDon't Let Me Be MisunderstoodI'm A BelieverThe MonkeesJackie Wilson SaidVan MorrisonTears Of A ClownClowntime Is OverWatching The DetectivesLet Him DangleGod's ComicArmed Forces(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Pump It UpMy Aim Is TruePaul McCartney


Orange County Register, September 11, 1989

Barbara O'Dair reviews Elvis Costello with The Rude 5, Saturday, September 9, 1989, Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, Irvine, California.


1989-09-11 Orange County Register page F1 clipping 01.jpg

1989-09-11 Orange County Register page F5 clipping 01.jpg

Photos by Juaquine Matthews.
1989-09-11 Orange County Register photo 01 jm.jpg

1989-09-11 Orange County Register photo 02 jm.jpg
Photos by Juaquine Matthews.

Page scans.
1989-09-11 Orange County Register page F1.jpg 1989-09-11 Orange County Register page F5.jpg


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