Elvis Costello took the stage at the Merriweather Post Pavilion Sunday night and didn't relinquish it for two hours, until he had played 24 songs that touched on nearly every style and emotion that rock-and-roll is capable of and excelled at them all.
Ranging from the acerbic 1977 anger of "Alison" to the bittersweet 1991 irony of "Sweet Pear"; from the simple rock-and-soul stomp of "Temptation" to the jagged, contrapuntal arrangement of "New Lace Sleeves"; from the Beatlesque pop of "Veronica" to the Dylanesque warning of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," this was a masterly concert by one of pop music's best songwriters at the height of his powers.
Wearing a black suit, a bushy beard, a red electric 12-string guitar, dark shades and a ponytail, the rabbinical-looking Costello received crucial help from the Rude 5, a four-man band that included keyboardist Larry Knechtel (formerly with Simon & Garfunkel); guitarist Marc Ribot (formerly with Tom Waits); bassist Jerry Scheff (formerly with Elvis Presley) and drummer Pete Thomas (the only leftover from Costello's Attractions). With Thomas delaying his snare shots like Charlie Watts and Knechtel coloring his organ chord voicings like Garth Hudson, the band created a rich backdrop for Costello's screaming, crooning and rasping vocals.
Costello led them through a fast rockabilly version of Willie Dixon's "Hidden Charms" and a slow, eerie version of Mose Allison's "Everybody's Crying Mercy." The first of three encores featured a long, sing-along version of "God's Comic," which Costello interrupted with a monologue impersonating God, in which the singer lambasted the human race for filling "His" paradise with Madonna movies, Michael Bolton records and Desert Storm ticker-tape parades.
The Replacements opened with a rousing show that proved what an inspiring rock-and-roll band they can be. It took them a while to get going, but the last five songs (lead singer Paul Westerberg's solo "Skyway" followed by improvements on the recorded versions of "When It Began," "I'll Be You," "Talent Show" and "Alex Chilton") fulfilled every claim ever made for this group.