Perhaps it's unfair to view Elvis Costello's recent Capitol Theater concert as typical of his latest tour.
A couple of weeks back, Elvis was supposed to take the town by storm: The Capitol on Friday, two shows at the Palladium Saturday and the Lone Star, Bottom Line and Great Gildersleeves Sunday night/Monday morning.
Instead, he began the weekend on a very un-Costello-like note by apologizing for some racist remarks quoted in the Village Voice. Never one to cater to the whims of the press (or the public), Elvis nevertheless felt obligated to set the record straight.
In fairness, he did seem concerned about more than his image; his very intentions were suspect.
He may sing "don't ask me to apologize, and I won't ask you to forgive me," but he also claims he was "misquoted out of context" and is "not a racist." Though he didn't mention it at the press conference, Elvis has headlined major "Rock Against Racism" rallies in England, and sings chillingly against fascism, both "emotional" and political.
With all this to contend with, including reported death threats, Elvis was understandably not quite himself at his Capitol concert. Even though his band, the Attractions, never sounded tighter, the show had a hurried quality about it.
Even under these trying conditions, there were moments of brilliance. The air was thick with tension when Elvis did "The Beat" and "Lipstick Vogue." Almost reverential when he sang an impassioned "Alison," gripping the mic stand for support. And furiously energetic when he did several new songs, one appropriately titled "I Stand Accused."
Unlike many artists, who take no chances on new, untested material, Elvis Costello lets out all the stops. A new song called "Idle Hands" segues neatly into "Hand in Hand," and "High Fidelity" (I Can Hear it Now)" follows "Accidents Will Happen," the new single from Armed Forces (Columbia).
"Radio, Radio," the frenetic finale, was followed by a two-song encore, something Mr. Costello isn't always fond of doing.