Elvis Costello has come a long way since he and the Attractions first toured America in the late 1970's, with an infamous concert here at Hollywood High School which lasted under an hour.
Donning dark sunglasses and his ever popular red shoes (the angels want to wear them badly), Costello and his Attractions appeared Sunday at the Universal Amphitheater where they delivered a mostly satisfying performance which clocked in at over two hours. This show marked the end of a nationwide tour which followed their recent album, Goodbye Cruel World (recently reviewed here).
Unlike last year's Punch the Clock tour which included three horn players (the TKO horns) and two black female singers (Afrodiziak), the only additional performer besides Costello and the Attractions was saxophonist Gary Barnacle. He handled all of the brass parts, originally recorded by the three-piece TKO horns, with one electric saxophone and some synthesizer help from Attraction's keyboardist Steve Nieve (now known as "Maurice Worm").
Just four months after an ambitious but successful solo tour, Costello, the one time John McEnroe of pop music, and his Attractions delivered a 30-song set which almost lasted too long.
Borrowing material from most of Costello's ten (count 'em) album catalogue, Costello and the Attractions, Bruce Thomas on bass, Pete Thomas (no relation) on drums, and "Maurice" on keyboard, played a decidedly soul flavored concert.
Highlights included a kinetic version of the rarely performed "Lipstick Vogue," and a slower '50s flavoured version of the recent "The Only Flame in Town," a rave up cover of James Brown's "I Feel Good," and a unforgettable duet with Sam Moore (from the legendary Sam and Dave) who jumped up on stage to do a gospel tinged version of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down." Moore looked and sounded better than ever, blending
perfectly with Elvis, shaking his body while belting out a powerful, soulful vocal performance that even left Costello in awe, beaming at Moore as he walked off stage.
Elvis' stage personality now seems so relaxed and stylized, compared to the tense nervousness he projected in earlier shows where he sometimes alienated fans. Now he looks like he's having fun.
Some minor criticisms are in order, but overall, this show was quite memorable. While Costello's voice was in top form, he tended to play with the melody too much in an attempt to compensate for the lack of vocal harmonies, which are thickly layered in many of his recordings, especially his post Trust work. This was especially true for the recent "Home Truth" and "Shabby Doll" from Imperial Bedroom, where Elvis' vocal wanderings made the songs sound unintentionally busy and maybe unrecognizable to some.
The Attractions are one of the most talented back up bands around, however on some songs like "Watching the Detectives," and "New Lace Sleeves," the original charm and groove of the studio version was lost in some overplaying.
One of the encores featured Costello performing a highly moving solo set which included his most political statement to date, "Peace in Our Time" where he changed the lyrics slightly pointing to our upcoming presidential election — "There's already one space-man in the White House / What do you want the same one again for."
Nick Lowe and his three-piece Cowboy Outfit (not a country band at all) opened with a fun set of his delightfully offbeat pop tunes. Lowe's keyboardist Paul Carrack, who played with the late Squeeze, sang "Tempted," his solo hit, "I need you," and his own claim to fame Ace's hit "How Long has This Been Goin' On" which he wrote for them. Lowe sang many of his great hits including his latest "Half a Boy and Half a Man," "Stick it," and "Raging Eyes." His performance was so good that the crowd gave Lowe the same amount of applause as Costello.