Washington Post, August 12, 1996

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Elvis Costello

Capitol Ballroom, Washington

Geoffrey Himes

Elvis Costello has improved so much as a singer over his 19-year career that even his oldest songs revealed new secrets when he performed at the Capitol Ballroom Friday night. Lyrics and even melodies that had disappeared in the adrenaline-fueled blur of the original versions suddenly popped into focus and gave the songs coherence and detail. And when the London singer-songwriter turned to slower, more recent material, his expanded vocal range and crisper enunciation allowed him to balance his Beatlesque melodies and Dylanesque lyrics as never before. It also helped that Costello's longtime band, the Attractions, has acquired a degree of subtlety to go with its famous fast, hard attack.

The quartet started with a breathless medley of 1977's "Waiting for the End of the World" and 1978's "You Belong to Me." Costello — with a garish orange shirt, a black leather vest and a fast-receding hairline — then made a crack about the U.S. election campaign, thus setting the stage for one of his greatest ballads, "New Lace Sleeves," and its memorable line "You never see the lies that you believe." He sang the challenging melody more confidently than on record, and all four musicians contributed to an imaginatively improvised coda.

Costello and his wonderfully sympathetic keyboardist Steve Nieve played four unaccompanied duets, including a riveting deadpan reading of "Pills and Soap." Costello confessed to the inspiration for some of his own songs by segueing from "Talking in the Dark" into the Kinks' "Dead End Street," from "Oliver's Army" into the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody," and from "Pump It Up" into Larry Williams's "Slow Down." He demonstrated his broad range on the encores — the lovely ballad "At the Other End of the Telescope," the organ-fueled garage rock of "13 Steps Down" and the ominous reggae minimalism of "Watching the Detectives."

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The Washington Post, August 12, 1996


Geoffrey Himes reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Friday, August 9, 1996, Capitol Ballroom, Washington, DC.


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