"I can tell, looking into your eyes, that you're a highly educated crowd." said Elvis Costello on Wednesday night at Kansas City's Midland Theatre, right before teaching the near-capacity crowd a new word — "protégé," which he defined as a "woman who spends all (a musician's) money"
Highly educated, perhaps. But even more so, highly dedicated. Costello's blend of caustic wit and anguished vocals has never gone over too well with the musical mainstream, but when obscure songs like "Man Out of Time," from 1982's Imperial Bedroom, and "Watching the Detectives," from 1977's My Aim is True, get some of the loudest cheers of the night, it's clear you're dealing with only the most serious of diehards.
Dressed in a black suit and sunglasses, Costello seemed to appreciate the crowd's enthusiasm, playing nearly 30 songs spread out over nearly 2½ hours. Taking the stage shortly after 8 p.m. with his backing band the Imposters (featuring two members of his longtime cohorts the Attractions), he launched into "I Hope You're Happy Now" and "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)," both from his recent CD When I Was Cruel.
While the electronics-influenced When I Was Cruel is undoubtedly the best work he's done in years, Costello tended to lean a little heavily on it throughout the show, often at the expense of hits like "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" or "Everyday I Write the Book." Still, the album's title track was one of the show's highlights, with Costello triggering the song's looped beat using a digital Sequencer mounted next to him onstage. As the song ended, he segued into a rendition of the standard "My Funny Valentine," with the beat still playing in the background.
Elsewhere, familiar songs were reinterpreted — a cover of Sam and Dave's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" was given a slow, soulful intro, while Costello gave a nod to his namesake, Elvis Presley, during "Alison," throwing in a few lines of "Suspicious Minds."
At times, it seemed like. Costello simply didn't want to leave the stage — not only did he do two encores, each one included at least five songs. After playing an obvious show-closer like "Alison" or "Pump it Up," he'd stand onstage, absorbing the applause for a minute before starting yet another song.
Fortunately, though, Costello had the good sense to know when to quit. "I Want You," the dark ballad about obsession from 1986's Blood & Chocolate, was as good a way to close the night as you could ask for At the end of the song, bassist Davey Faragher and keyboardist Steve Nieve completely, stopped playing, leaving only Costello's voice and the delicate drumming of Pete Thomas. Illuminated by a single spotlight, Costello stepped away from his microphone, singing the song's final lines unamplifled to a completely silent audience.
After a moment, the highly dedicated responded with a standing ovation.