The music of Elvis Costello can cure the sick.
Well, not exactly. But his show at the Wiltern Theater last Tuesday night made this reviewer temporarily forget one of the worst colds of her life for a scant hour and fifteen minutes.
Costello is deep in an image transition right now, as evidenced by his adoption of a now-notorious beard and wire-rimmed sunglasses to replace his old hornrims. Gone too is his image as the world's oldest angry young man, the last upholder of "real" (anything without a drum machine) rock 'n' roll.
Instead, Costello emphasized his roots at the Wiltern show, playing songs by Little Richard and bluesman Mose Allison as well as the blues and country and western-influenced songs he himself has written.
Put in this perspective, the customary bitter lamentations of lost love that appear in Costello's new and old songs seem less the work of a permanently depressed man and more like a man nobly upholding the traditional suffering of blues and C & W music.
Songs from Costello's latest album, Mighty Like a Rose, played a prominent part in the show, from the deceptively bouncy "The Other Side of Summer" and "Georgie and Her Rival" to the slower-paced "All Grown Up" and "So Like Candy."
Still, the best thing about a Costello show is the man's vast repertoire of songs, both his own and other people's — you can be assured that, unless you sneak a peek at the playlist, some of the songs chosen will be unfamiliar or at least half-forgotten.
In this category were songs like "Suit of Lights," from King of America, or the more recent "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," from Costello's last album Spike.
In the intimate confines of the Wiltern — where you feel self-conscious just getting up to go to the washroom since you harbor the sneaking suspicion that the performer can see you leaving — Costeilo was relaxed and confident, playing the songs in rapid succession with very little chatter to the audience.
When he did talk, he was invariably amusing, announcing that "Georgie and Her Rival” was about a liar, a cheat, a dishonest person... "Yes, a man," he said wickedly, and he and the Rude 5 tore into the song.
Towards the end of the concert, Costello announced that the audience could "unfasten your safety belts" and do a little dancing. One or two brave souls were eventually joined by people from the back of the auditorium in the aisles until the whole auditorium was up and swaying along to "Alison."
The crowd-pleasing "Pump It Up," the last song of the night, felt a little strange coming from the new Costello, however; the song's simple lyrics did not fit very well with the verbal complexities of what came before.
The opening act was Costello protegee Sam Phillips, whose songs sound a little like a cross between the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge.
Phillips had attitude to spare, lashing out at the fairly attentive audience with her sardonic remarks, but her music gained her an enthusiasm response when the time came for her to leave.
There's only one major complaint that can be made about the show — its shortness relative to the price of the ticket. Thirty dollars for an hour of music is pretty steep for us starving students.