While Nick Lowe was playing his pure pop last night at the Palumbo Center, I just kept thinking: Elvis is in the building. Elvis Costello, of course. To this crowd, E.C. was infinitely more exciting than even the other Elvis rising from the dead.
"Oh! I just don't know where to begin!" he began on his classic "Accidents Will Happen." But Elvis has never been at a loss for words. Since the last time he played here, 1982, he's churned out another five albums, bringing his total to 12 since 1977's My Aim is True.
That's a lot of songs and a lot of words, and that's what the adoring crowd got. The tumultuous Attractions stayed home, leaving Elvis alone with his guitar and songs. Despite the less-than-intimate Palumbo, last night was a chance to savor his lyrics, see his many sides and hear his songs at their most emotionally charged. He deconstructed his songs to their barest, and belted them out with one of rock's most powerful voices. You could just picture Elvis as a little kid, singing way louder than anyone else in his class. (And — should I add? — he's in a class by himself.)
Elvis isn't angry anymore, but he sure isn't cozy either. In fact, he now finds deeper things to move him than dumb party girls. From his new Spike album, he sang passionately about an aging grandmother, "Veronica," and about the death penalty in "Let Him Dangle."
To the surprise of the crowd, he mixed these with "Watching the Detectives" and "Mystery Dance," played with ferocious energy and a steady rumble on his acoustic.
Playfully, Elvis (as "The Beloved Entertainer") mixed the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" into "New Amsterdam," and Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said" into "Radio Sweetheart."
Forty-five minutes into the show, Elvis said goodnight, and I had horrible memories of the time I drove to Cleveland to see him play for 50 minutes. But this time Costello was lust teasing. He came back all his real self, Declan Patrick MacManus, to sing about the Costello character in the lovely "Brilliant Mistake" and then did a reverb-heavy electric version of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."
Then he came out with Lowe to do the real Elvis' "Marie" and an unforgettable version of Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?"
But the show wasn't over till Elvis trotted out all his alter egos. So out came Monsignor Napoleon Dynamite, demonic game show host. For this trick, blond girls from the audience were escorted onstage by a werewolf to pick a sin from a satin heart and then make a song request.
At this point, anyone who said he wouldn't play "Pump it Up" ate their words. With a beatbox and a distortion pedal, Elvis played it the way Lou Reed would do it — with little rhythm and a lot of noise.
The sin selected? "Awesomeness."