Rock's last angry young man, Elvis Costello, showed off his new Mr. Nice Guy stage show to a capacity crowd at UC-Berkeley's Greek Amphitheater Friday. It was wild, wacky, wonderful fun. Pretty good for such nerdy lookin' guy.
Augmented by the TKO Horns (formerly of Dexy's Midnight Runners) and the female back-up of Afrodiziak, Elvis and his band the Attractions blasted on stage with their new single "Let Them All Talk." The Punch the Clock Tour was now in session, and for the next two hours, the one-time computer programmer presented a delicious assortment selections from every phase of his ever-evolving repertoire (no C&W however.) This boy writes songs like a bee makes honey.
If Elvis has one tradition, it is one of constant change, and again this tour followed that formula. New songs like "Charm School" were given punchier renditions. And older classics like "Mystery Dance" were radically rearranged, though still imbued with that same fire of paranoid vengeance at which the Elvoid is so good. Elvis, always one for a pertinent cover tune, did double duty by changing the (now disbanded) English Beat's plea to "Stand Down Margaret" as in Thatcher with a rousing "Stand Down Ronnie" chorus. A nice tribute to a great band as well as concerned advice to a fellow misunderstood individual.
With keyboard wizard Steve Nieve (watch for his upcoming solo album, kids) playing Nelson Riddle to Elvis' Sinatra, the Attractions provided a solid, textured backing, perfectly complimenting the Last Great Englishman's many moods. The tender mercies inherent in songs like "Allison" and "Shipbuilding" were not lost, while the soul stirrings of classics like "The Bells" and the O'Jays' "Backstabbers" swung like a mallet.
Like other great singer/songwriters — from Dylan to Springsteen — Elvis has a talent for performing his material is such a way that it suddenly seems to be all explained just at the moment you're listening. Certain phrases become clear right between your ears as if by magic, even if you've heard that particular song a hundred times on head phones. Uncanny.
While some may mourn the passing of the rude mood model EC, I'm just wondering what the crazy guy is going to do next.