Like a zirconium under the lights on the Home Shopping Network, Elvis Costello has revealed many facets to his fans since he first burst onto the scene in 1977, radiating anger in all directions.
Since then, he's not mellowed so much as expanded his range, and we've seen Elvis the soul fan, Elvis the pop craftsman, Elvis the crooner, even Elvis the classical musician.
It's rare to hear Costello in a club these days, but a fortunate set of circumstances brought him to Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence for a pair of shows last night.
The first show felt a tad short at 85 minutes, but was still packed with goodies.
Wearing all black, backed by longtime associates Pete Thomas on drums, the indispensable Steve Nieve on
keyboards, and new bassist Davey Faragher, Costello didn't spend time on a lot of chitchat.
He opened with a couple of scorching rockers "I Hope You're Happy Now" and a tune from last year's album
When I Was Cruel called "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)."
Costello's expanded range is mostly a good thing, but he's at his best when there's at least a little venom in his fangs. Which there certainly was.
Mose Allison's "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" slowed things down some, but Costello made the most of the trenchant lyrics ("Everybody's cryin' peace on earth, Just as soon as we win this war.")
A guitar solo, drenched with reverb, and some hard-hitting work by Thomas juiced up the song at the end.
Costello might not have had much to say during his set, but he was a showman nonetheless, getting the crowd to clap along with the twangy riff that ran through "Clown Strike" and having everyone sing along to the old favorite "Pump It Up."
He also offered a new ballad, a soulful piece called "Either Side of the Same Town," featuring harmonies between Costello and Faragher on the choruses.
Then he teased the crowd with a very slow opening before Thomas's drums kicked in and Costello roared into "I Can't Stand Up (For Falling Down)."
For their encore, Costello & Co. charged through a pair of old favorites, "Oliver's Army" and "Radio Radio," barely pausing between them.
Next came an impassioned version of "Shipbuilding," an antiwar song Costello wrote when Britain was fighting over the Falklands.
Circumstances may have changed, but from the way Costello was singing, his sentiments have not.
The show ended with Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding," underlined by Thomas's triphammer drums and Nieve's surging keyboards. At the end of the song, Costello stopped, let the cheers build up, then cranked up another chorus, this time with the crowd singing along.
True, a few old Costello favorites were missing in action -- "Alison," "Watching the Detectives" -- but with a repertoire as large as Costello's, you can't have everything. And to see him at a club was a genuine treat.