In 1986, Elvis Costello released his first solo album, brazenly titled King Of America. It was an audacious move and, like his earlier albums with his backing band, the Attractions, a very successful one.
The ardor of the audience at Costello's sold-out-in-30-minutes show at the Showbox, proclaimed loud and strong that the Liverpudlian singer/songwriter's crown remains untarnished. "Elvis is God Incarnate," shouted one lady between songs. Costello turned towards her, eyebrows angled in Snoopy-like bemusement as if he were asking: "Who? Me?" She was not referring to Presley.
On his latest album, All This Useless Beauty, Costello has reunited with the Attractions but for this short club tour, he is accompanied only by Steve Naive on grand piano. Voicing his approval of the intimacy of playing clubs rather than arenas, Costello joked: "It's hard to fall in love with someone in Row 47."
Though a stunning pianist, Naive remained a silent partner as Costello performed with an acoustic guitar, "plugging in" only towards the end of the show for a biting version of the ska-beat "Watching The Detectives" (from 1978's My Aim Is True album), and a new song — a faux blues, rockabilly rumble co-written with Paul McCartney — called "Shallow Grave."
Witty banter and blarney peppered the set. Costello is masterful at both turning his observations into incisive lyrical couplets or just plain silliness: Noting the likeness between Alanis Morissette and Dave Grohl he said, "It's funny you never see them in the same place at the same time: It's the pigtails that give it away though."
Older songs, like the beautiful, twisted ballad "Alison" and "Accidents Will Happen" with its snappy lyrics biting hard into the innocent, easy melody, had the audience singing along like Costello was a member of the home team.
Moving with equal poignancy, consideration, and impartiality, Costello sang of the futility of the female condition in "All This Useless Beauty" and the fragility of men's during "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone?" Twenty years of uniting edgy, intelligent thought with unsentimental passion was highlighted in two hours. For some, those two hours were spent seeing an old friend again. For others, that time held the thrill of finding a new one. No one went home empty.