In his own unobtrusive way, Elvis Costello is an adventurous performer. Backed by his Attractions band — Bruce Thomas (bass), Pete Thomas (drums) and Steve Naive (keyboards) — Costello is not afraid to change his show around on any given evening.
Valentine's Day at the Long Beach Arena, Costello's compact, 75-minute set showcased tunes mostly from his new Armed Forces LP and material not yet on any albums. He even failed to include "Alison," the stirring ballad, and the FM staple "Lip Service." Only three nights before, performing at the Berkeley Community Center, he left out "Radio, Radio" and his latest single "(What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" (both of which were included at Long Beach).
Even further back, making an appearance on Saturday Night Live, Costello and his band, much to the chagrin of the show's producer, changed at the last minute a song they first said they would play.
It's clear that Costello — in a time when slick, predictable shows are the rule — just doesn't play by the rules. And that's good.
Clad in baggy, cuffed jeans and a checked shirt, Costello peered out at the audience through horn-rimmed glasses, almost daring them to be disappointed. But they weren't.
For much of the show, Costello was bathed in eerie red and green spots, contributing to the mysterious and urgent themes running through his music and lyrics. The biting attack on the conservative approach of AM radio programmers in "Radio, Radio" and the conflicts of the mind spoken of in "Two Little Hitlers" seemed all the more appropriate in the red and greenish glow.
Costello and the Attractions do not assume flashy, pop star poses in any form. In fact, Costello is very much the opposite. Staying within close range of the microphone, he assumes a pigeon-toed stance and refreshingly makes no attempt at any extraneous cavorting.
Another out-of-the-ordinary feature of Costello's show is his rapid-fire delivery of the songs with hardly a breather in between. There is no room for extended solos, and it's almost a shame because the band is so talented. Naive's rich, melodic keyboard textures blend well with Thomas' throbbing bass, complimenting Costello’s emotional melodies.
Capping off an exhilarating show, arena ushers passed out a surprise Valentine's Dav gift; promotional copies of his latest single "(What So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" with a flip side version of "My Funny Valentine."
The Rubinos, a Berkeley-based band played a cheery, 35-minute set of 50s-60s pop-rock to open the show. The foursome's music covered a good-natured sendup of some heave-metal riffs, some Beach Boys-style surf rock and featured a great version of the Beatles "Please Please Me."