One measure of pop excellence in concert is the ability both to defy expectations and to give people what they came for. Elvis Costello, touring for his latest album, Goodbye Cruel World, did just that at his September 16 Universal Amphitheatre show. Back with The Attractions after a solo live stint, Costello focused on his most recent material, from his pre-rock, post-Almost Blue albums — as most undoubtedly figured he would. But if the audience was planning on settling in for the evening to hear some mellow songs, from a "no longer angry" man, they were a bit mistaken.
His toned-down, sometimes suave side was seen in bits and snatches through the set, including the new single "The Only Flame In Town" (playing it twice, though, was unwarranted and came off as crass). This new suaveity and charm was brought to full light in the affecting first encore (there were three), with a remarkable "Shipbuilding" and a solo acoustic "Peace In Our Time" that was miles above the artsy album version.
Much more apparent, though, was his overtly passionate, snappy and faster-paced side, ranging from "Lipstick Vogue" and "Clubland" to revved-up versions of "Shabby Doll" and "Beyond Belief," and equally stimulating renditions of songs from his two most recent albums.
Costello's vocals and The Attractions' playing, especially from Lawrence Dunnett on keyboards, were in eloquent, absorbing, energetic form all night. They finally topped off the two-hour show with a robust cover of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," with Costello joined by a guest singer, and then a bursting series of oldies, including "Red Shoes" and "Pump It Up."
Costello proved to a delighted audience that he can delve into very different new styles without artistically boxing himself into them.