Elvis Costello puts on an excellent show every time he tours, and could get by just fine doing basically the same one each time around. But Costello is also one for trying new things, as he's shown with every album and at a 3-night stand last week at the Warfield Theatre.
Instead of playing the same show all three nights, Costello picked a theme for each night, making his stay more of an experience than a group of rock concerts. It also showed the light and witty side of a man who has often been construed as cold and uncaring to his dedicated fans.
The first night was dubbed "Blood and Chocolate," after his latest album with the Attractions. The show featured songs from that album, which sounded much fresher in concert than the first few listens on vinyl. Most notable of these was "Battered Old Bird," a powerful and haunting tune about Costello's first marriage and his battle with drugs ("There's a place where time stands still / if you keep taking these little pink pills"). In addition there was a wide array of old material, a few cover versions, and a request spot during the encore in which young girls screamed for "Pump it up" and a chilling version of "Alison." The show ended with Spinal Tap-like feedback which tested the ears of the greatest Elvis fan, namely me.
On to night two, where the fun and experimentation began: Elvis came in with his alter ego, Napolean Dynamite, who claimed to enjoy driving with his baby while listening to Teddy Pendergrass. Napoleon served as host and toast-master.
On stage was a huge "Spinning Songbook," which had about 40 tunes, and a Go-Go cage complete with girl. During the show, members of the audience were invited up to spin the wheel to see which song the group would play and then enter the Go-Go cage or the society lounge, which featured cable TV and gatorade.
Costello joked with the crowd, once claiming the band would go into two hours of Bryan Ferry hits. Instead he turned in a great mid-show acoustic set, which featured the Beatles "Yes It Is" and the Furs' "Pretty in Pink." After this, the Attractions returned, along with Huey Lewis, who served as emcee and part-time harmonica player for the rest of the show, highlighting with the blues tune "Help Me." The highlight of the encore here was a fast "Peace, Love, and Understanding."
The third night Elvis replaced the Attractions with the Confederates from last year's King of America, and played mostly songs from that album along with covers of blues tunes and another acoustic set which featured "Riot Act' and a few B-sides.
Though sometimes the concepts didn't quite work, especially the second night, it was different and made the audience think. It showed a charming side of Elvis, and showed the bite of his new material. He obviously hasn't lost his edge, as his new lyrics show ("I knew then what I know now / I never loved you anyhow / And I hope that you're happy now"). Mostly it showed the innovation of Elvis in a rock world that is largely stagnant. After seeing all three shows I can confidently report that Elvis is King. Elvis fans everywhere, get happy.