Yesterday's afternoon-into-evening rock concert at JFK Stadium featured Genesis, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Blondie, A Flock of Seagulls and Robert Hazard and the Heroes, as disparate a collection of rock bands as you're likely to find.
The standout act of the day was Elvis Costello and the Attractions. The British quartet took the stage just after 6:30 p.m.; three bands had preceded them, and the massive crowd was beginning to feel the effects of a hot, sunny afternoon that was rapidly cooling off. The odds were against Costello, to be sure. In addition to a restless audience, he was showcasing material from his new album. Imperial Bedroom, a set of adroitly phrased love songs whose subtleties should have been difficult, if not impossible, to render in this huge stadium with poor acoustics.
Yet Costello gave an extraordinary performance. He is known as an exceptional songwriter — perhaps the finest of his generation — with a nasty temper and a froggy voice. Yet recently, Costello has seen the limits of his furious-young-man stance; although it has inspired remarkably passionate, fiery music in the past, it also has limited his subject matter severely. Imperial Bedroom presents a more calm, contemplative Costello. Many of the new songs strike me as fussily phrased and mannered, but there's no denying these compositions' power and sincerity.
Amazingly, Costello conveyed all of this complexity at JFK Stadium yesterday. Dressed in a somber gray suit that belied his cheerful enthusiasm, he sang in a ringing croon and won over the crowd, transforming a sagging audience into a group of lively dancers. Most impressive was a tough, jagged version of "Shabby Doll," one of Costello's new songs, and he even included a salute to Philadelphia: As a prelude to his own "King Horse," he sang two verses of the O'Jays' great "Backstabbers," a landmark of "Philly soul" music. It was a perfect performance.