Mellowing out has its own subtle rewards. For Elvis Costello, encroaching middle age means it's high time he stopped being England's angriest young man. After all, you can't expect to he rock 'n' roll's enfant terrible forever.
This is especially true for Costello, who will turn 40 this summer. But the prolific singer-songwriter isn't exactly ready to call it quits when it comes to putting on an ____astic performance. Costello still had the musical passion to pump up just more than 3,000 concertgoers that attended hi May 16 show at Balboa Park's Starlight Bowl.
Throughout his two-hour set, the former computer programmer-turned-rocker reaffirmed that such classic songs as "Alison" and "Watching the Detectives" can still pack a walloping punch.
The show's creative energy harked back to Costello's heyday when his punk brethren took pleasure in fire-bombing the citadels of pop music. Like his many compatriots, Costello made no bones about brandishing his anger as a badge of courage, a sign of solidarity with an audience that wasn't much older than himself.
Today, touring in support of his current album, Brutal Youth, Costello is no longer the bespectacled outsider looking in. In fact, his fans range from thirtysomethings to people in their 20s who are discovering his work for the first time. There's no doubt about it: The former Declan MacManus is very much the established artist with a respected repertoire tucked firmly under his belt.
The opening band, Crash Test Dummies, however, didn't fare as well. With the notable exception of the pleasant tune, "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," the hand's songs never really sparked much of a response from the crowd.
As his rich baritone voice boomed across the amphitheater, frontman Brad Roberts' lyrics for "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" describe a group of children plagued with their individual problems.
Lines such as "Once there was this boy whose / Parents made him come directly home right after school," lend this hit single an amusing touch of whimsy that's perfect for Roberts' wiseguy stage persona.
Despite the lukewarm audience, Roberts seemed eager to engage in some lighthearted banter. Part rock musician, part stand-up comedian, the singer-guitarist displayed a charming knack for tossing out one-liners with a genuine appreciation for the audience.
There's no shortage of irony watching a band with such an off-the-wall moniker perform under the flight path of incoming planes. The running joke of the evening was the Starlight Bowl's close proximity to Lindbergh Field.
"So whose brilliant idea was it to build an amphitheater next to the San Diego airport?" Roberts remarked with his trademark baritone voice.
"It's sort of like the 'What came first: the city planner or the caveman?' question."
Even Costello got into the act of poking fun at the obvious. Everybody's a comedian, right? Wrong.
"It's good to he back at runway three," said Costello at one point during his two-hour set. "We've heard of the friendly skies, but this is fuckin' ridiculous."
Fortunately, these stabs at humor were dispensed with early in the set. Toward the latter half of the show, Costello jumped from one classic tune to another with the Attractions rushing to catch up with him. And to cap the evening off, Costello and his fabled back-up hand did three encores before calling it a night.
Despite his earlier campy asides, Costello never lost the focus of his primary intent: to fill the Starlight Bowl with rock 'n' roll that simultaneously strokes the heart while teasing the brain. This is the Elvis Costello we've come to love and respect over the years. Sure, he's older now, but his magic and lyrical bite are still very much intact.