Two of the biggest stars on today's rock 'n' roll scene — Neil Young and Elvis Costello — played Santa Cruz on successive nights this week.
Both performers used the local gigs as an opportunity to warm-up for upcoming tours: Costello for a series of American dates and Young for a European tour.
Costello and his ever-smoldering backup band the Attractions blew into town a day early on Tuesday, using the time to take in the local sights and rehearse inside the cavernous Civic Auditorium.
Elvis' show Wednesday night was actually kind of a paid dress rehearsal before he and the Attractions embark on an extensive tour of the United States. The performance was markedly different from Costello's appearance here three years ago, when the enigmatic songwriting genius played a short set and insulted the audience before leaving in a huff.
This time around, Costello was a gracious and appreciative guest, leading the Attractions through a nearly two-hour set of both old and new material. The former computer programmer-turned-composer-extraordinaire offered a musical retrospective of his eventful career, performing selections from virtually all of his outstanding Columbia releases as well as his brand new LP Imperial Bedroom.
Splicing an almost equal amount of sensitive ballads (does Elvis secretly want to be Frank Sinatra?) between more typically aggressive rock tunes, Costello was in fine voice, offering such modern standards as "Big Tears," "Clubland," "White Lies" and "Alison." Costello also performed a couple of surprise covers, including smokin' versions of Ry Cooder's "Little Sister" and the '70s soul hit "Backstabber."
Perhaps most amazing was the fact Costello happily consented to two encores in the sold out show, repeatedly thanking the crowd for its attention and admitting that he and the boys "were a little nervous" on the eve of their American tour.
If Costello's show Wednesday night at the Civic was any indication, it should be one hell of a tour.
And in the "When Will They Ever Learn?" Department, counterfeit BASS tickets were once again discovered at the show, the second such incident at the Civic this year. As Bill Graham Production representatives constantly stress, tickets should only be purchased at official outlets, and the Cedar Street parking garage is not one of them.