The reports on the Dr Pepper shows had been pretty good. No one said the pier matched the old Central Park atmosphere but it had improved over last year.
When Elvis Costello and the Attractions scheduled a show for last Monday, it seemed like a good opportunity to find out how good the pier was. The setting turned out to be more pleasant than expected, a bit larger than the Wollman Skating Rink at the Park.
Sitting in the middle grandstand toward the back you could get an unobstructed view over the heads of those standing on their chairs up front.
The sound was disappointing. The Attractions' bass player rarely made through the p.a. as more than a dull rumble. They boosted the keyboard player up too much and Elvis' guitar could only be heard when he slashed away.
Luckily, the sound people did their best with the vocal mike, and Elvis was in top form. The tunes from the new album, Imperial Bedroom, came through exceptionally well with scaled down arrangements, and Costello performed enough of his older hits to keep everyone happy.
He also picked glorious cover material, like songs from Smokey Robinson, the O'Jays, a blues standard, "Help Me," and some unfamiliar country tunes.
He's developed a keen sense of stagemanship; holding a coffee cup while crooning "Almost Blue" (a better version than one he recorded) was a killer.
Costello and the Attractions tried to make up for the dismaying sound problems (about which Elvis alternately apologized and raved) by playing longer than usual, including three sets of encores, ending with a beautiful new song titled "Shipbuilding."
The slower tunes were superb. The rockers suffered from a combination of poor sound and the Attractions inability to really crank it up (the latter related to the former.) Overall, a very good show that could have been better.