Elvis Costello looked the part when he arrived at the San Francisco Amoeba store for a free concert on Monday to push his new country album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane. With mandolin player Mike Compton on one side and bluegrass guitarist Jim Lauderdale on the other, the 54-year-old English singer-songwriter wore a slight wisp of a mustache, sideburns and gold-framed sunglasses — the kind typically sported by the other Elvis.
Shortly before noon, the hundreds of people who had been waiting in a line that snaked around the block filed into the far reaches of the Haight Street record store. There were so many people that even the staff was taken aback. "I've never seen so many people turn out for an in-store," said Amoeba's co-owner David Prinz. "Especially on a workday."
Directly after the San Francisco show, Costello zipped off to perform at the Amoeba store in Hollywood — surely a feat as impressive if not exactly as ambitious as Phil Collins playing both sides of the Atlantic for Live Aid.
But first he had some songs and autographs to get through. Costello covered most of the new album during his 40-minute acoustic set, offering endearing, stripped-down takes on tunes he originally recorded in Nashville, including "Down Among the Wines and Spirits" and "Red Cotton."
The singer — who in the past few years has played with everyone from Burt Bacharach to the Brodsky Quartet — even unveiled something tentatively called "Condemned Man," a sinister jailhouse ballad he hasn't recorded yet. "You have to come out to the record shop to hear this one," he said.
After the live set, Costello returned to the stage to sign autographs. He brought along an apple that he proceeded to chomp on as people passed through the long line, mostly telling him how much his music changed their lives. Some offered more unusual praise. "I loved you in Austin Powers," said one man, producing a book about that film. "Yeah, baby!" That guy came back three times.
Another man, upon getting to the front of the line, politely asked, "Is Mr. Lauderdale available, by any chance?"
As people presented Costello with everything from demo tapes and children's books to freshly baked cookies for his trip, he quickly dashed off his name and masterfully avoided conversation, casually munching through the apple and looking ahead.
He wasn't even fazed when one middle-aged man handed him a pair of hot pink underwear — unworn, it should be noted — saying, "Wear them well." Costello shrugged, "I will. On my head."
Never underestimate a man with a mustache.