San Jose State Spartan Daily, April 23, 1987
Elvis Costello proves to be the
Welcome to Elvis Costello's wheel of fortune and celebrity lounge. Pull up a barstool, pour yourself some Gatorade. and check out the funny-looking man at the keyboards.
Maybe you'd like to go over to the Go-Go cage and wiggle around like the dancers used to on the old Hullabaloo show while the funny man in the Buddy Holly glasses sings rock 'n' roll songs to your — about 4,000 of them. No, not 4,000 songs — 4,000 people. You know - the ones who came to see the maestro of modern rock, Elvis Costello.
Costello's sold-out April 16 show at the San Jose Civic Auditorium was a showcase for his distinct, wry personality. The audience sat quietly as he stood alone onstage with an acoustic guitar and cranked out a series of songs, straining with potent emotion as he cut his soul and bled it out into the air for all to feel.
This guy sings with a hard passion, like he saw more than he was supposed to and had to let it out somewhere. Lucky for us he came here to do it, because along with his sardonic wit and mocking smile come some of the most poignant, dramatic songs since Dylan started knocking words together.
Wait just a doggone minute, though. What's this about a celebrity lounge and a Go-Go cage? Thing is, Costello wanted to have a few of his fans up on stage with him, so for the second half of the show. the crowd became part of a rock 'n' roll game show — half-TV hokum, half vaudeville.
A huge wheel hung from the curtain behind Costello, covered with the names of many of his songs. Audience members were invited by his master of ceremonies. Mr. Xavier Valentine (dressed impeccably in a set of tails) to come onstage and spin the wheel, then to stay onstage with Costello as he sang the songs they picked.
On one side of the stage was set up a piano bar, the celebrity lounge, and on the other side was the go-go cage. The contestants could sit next to Costello as he sang a slow melody, or undulate wildly in the cage as he played a rocker of a song.
Strutting about the stage in a top-hat, Costello was a perfect game show host, calling himself "Napoleon Dynamite," bantering with the audience and telling stories and jokes in between songs.
When the wheel was spun to land on a song he had just played, he slyly kept it spinning to land on a new song, saying, "If you can't cheat in San Jose, where can you cheat?" He then launched into the song it had finally landed on, "Every Day I Write the Book."
He sang many songs picked from off the wheel, including "Almost Blue," "Alison," "Big Chair," "Girls talk," "Clubland," "Peace in Our Time," and Bob Dylan's "I Threw It All Away."
Without his band, the Attractions, to back him, Costello could not rely on the power of the music to move people. Instead he moved them with the intensity of his voice.
Costello gives new meaning to the word "consonant," spitting out hard sounds like he is driving nails. He has a peculiar phrasing that makes every word sound immediate, urgent, laden with significance. Like a squeeze-doll being tortured, the words are pulled out of him.
It might as well have been a small club instead of an auditorium. People listened to the music silently, giving him all their attention. No horsing around and talking loud like at other rock shows. Not even any dancing. These people were here to listen, and that's what they did.
The first half of the show was a slide show of a hilarious vacation Costello had been on. It felt like Costello had the whole crowd in his living room as he clicked from slide to slide, telling the story of his vacation much as your Uncle Larry does when he bores you with the dumb details of his trip as you sit in his old couch with the broken spring that pokes you in the butt.
"Some people have light shows and explosions. I have home photos," he told the crowd, then proceeded to tell tall tales to accompany the slides.
Besides singing his own songs, Costello played the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love away," Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said" and two Grateful Dead songs. "Ship of Fools" and "It Must Have Been the Roses."
All the while a small portable TV sat on a table next to him, showing programs in black and white while he sang. Sometimes Costello is a little weird.
Three encores were delivered, the final one being a song of love-gone-bad from his second to last album, King of America. As the spotlight highlighted his pained face, he sang into the night.
Well I finally found someone to turn me upside down.
Spartan Daily, Entertainer supplement, April 23, 1987
A reader writes about Nick Lowe's opening set in a subsequent issue.
Spartan Daily, April 27, 1987
Review deals Nick Lowe low blow