"Elvis Costello Repents" proclaims the cover of the current Rolling Stone. And in what is described as his first major interview in five years, the enigmatic Englishman, who has been called by some the greatest songwriter of his generation, does indeed admit that many of his actions since entering the public eye have been at best confusing to his fans and, at worst, damaging to his career.
Of course, such a tale might easily be discounted as just so much cold, calculating PR on the part of yet another British sensation who has thus far failed to set the American charts on fire, but this is probably an unfair assessment of Costello's situation.
If he truly is trying to reach out to his rabid following, he made a good case for himself with an appearance on NBC's David Letterman Show last Monday, during which he did his best to act charming before the hopelessly ill-prepared talk show host, and with a blazing concert the next evening at Convention Hall in Asbury Park, during which he solidified his reputation as one of the most electrifying performers on the scene.
Though we've enjoyed every one of the half-dozen or so Costello concerts we've attended during the past five years, it often seemed as though he was blaring his songs at his audience rather than playing for it. His constant slamming of several songs back-to-back, lack of communication with the crowd and sometimes surly manner combined to make it seem that all he wanted to do was get the evening over with.
That was definitely not the case in Asbury Park. Though the evening got off to a sloppy start with a rather ragged rendition of "Accidents Will Happen," Elvis and his Attractions certainly gelled after that. Sliding into an almost-effortless "Green Shirt," with Bruce Thomas' fingers gliding along his bass neck and Pete Thomas' ear-shattering rimshots, the evening looked to be an interesting one, and it was.
As always, Steve Nieve's work on keyboards was outstanding, making his myriad of instruments sound more like an orchestra as he provided the subtly changing atmospheres for the more than three dozen songs.
And it was a different Elvis Costello than seen in the past. Acting almost like an old-fashioned crooner during some of the songs from this summer's sensational Imperial Bedroom (Columbia), he made you believe he wasn't kidding when he told Letterman that he wants Frank Sinatra to record his moody "Almost Blue."
He seemed much more at ease with the crowd, toying with them for "just one more" during the course of his three multi-songed encores. The inclusion of such seemingly unlikely tunes as the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" and his evening-ending version of Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin,'" together with his frequent shifting of gears between fast and slow material made for an always engaging, nearly two-hour show.