SARATOGA SPRINGS — Throughout his decade-long career, Elvis Costello has been constantly on the move, changing names and musical styles faster than you can say "Declan MacManus," which Is his real name. He is the rock world's most challenging chameleon, rivaled only by Nell Young and David Bowie.
He's been the angry young man of the new wave movement, the country crooner of Almost Blue, and the sophisticated songwriter of Imperial Bedroom. More recently, he's assumed the identities of the hellish rocker Napoleon Dynamite as well as the jovial Spike. the beloved entertainer, who delivered a breath-taking solo performance at Albany's Palace Theatre just four months ago.
Last night, before the concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center the crowd was anxious and curious. Which of these many Elvis Costellos would take the stage?
As it turns out, nearly all of them took a turn or two in the spotlight, but the fact of the matter remains that there Is only one Elvis Costello, after all. And he was dazzling.
As he did at the Palace, he crashed into his show, opening with a collision-like version of "Accidents Will Happen." Dressed In black and looking surprisingly similar to the way he did on his first album cover, Costello bashed away on his 12-string acoustic guitar in front of his band the Rude Five (which, in typically enigmatic Costello fashion, featured six members).
He brought a bit of country twang to "Brilliant Mistake," before tearing into a fiery blast of old-time rock and roll with "Honey, Are You Straight (Or Are You Blind?)," featuring some mind-boggling guitar slashing by Marc Ribot, a veteran of the Lounge Lizards and Tom Waits' band.
The key ingredient to the show was a handful of new tunes springing from Costello's recent collaboration with Paul McCartney. "You Want Her Too" appears on McCartney's latest album Flowers in the Dirt, but you'd never recognize it from the revved-up version Costello offered. "Pads, Paws and Claws" was a slightly twisted rockabilly tune that segued into Georgie Fame's "Yeh Yeh."
The unrecorded "So Like Candy," a smokey ballad of the haunting memories of a love lost, was given an aching treatment during a twenty-minute mid-set solo section which also featured "Everyday I Write the Book" wrapped around "My Brave Face."
After the band returned to the stage, the second half of the show was highlighted by a gospel brass-band treatment of "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" (with Costello doing some fervent sermonizing), and a deliciously dissonant, howling tear through "Watching the Detectives."
The encores ranged from his old rave love ballad "Alison" to the smart pop of his latest single "Veronica" and an absolutely crash-and-burn blitz of "Pump It Up."
A two and a quarter hour tour de force, Elvis Costello's concert may not have quite matched the intensity or intimacy of his recent Palace show, but it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that one of his shows us a must-see event, no matter which Elvis Costello shows up to perform.