On Aug. 10, 1956, Elvis Presley sashayed into the much-newer-than-it-is-now Florida Theatre and took Northeast Florida's teens to their knees and local judges to their wits' ends. Presley's famous pelvic tremors rocked the conservative Baptists to their cores that summer day, and it's a wonder whatever good-ol'-boy political machine in place then didn't have the national guard assembled on Forsyth Street, ready to stop the young man with the loose hips and the snarled lip from leading a cultural revolution in Jacksonville.
Almost 60 years on, Elvis will walk through the doors of The Florida Theatre again. Sure, this Elvis doesn't shake his hips as much and doesn't wear leather motorcycle jackets. He does, however, have that snarl. And the same knock-kneed stance. As a contributor to the original Brit-punk movement of the '70s — and as influential to a particular crowd as Presley was to those teenage girls and boys in 1956 — Elvis Costello is one of the greatest songwriters of his or any generation and is now as much of a curator of popular music as he is an entertainer. It could also be argued that he is the master collaborator, having worked with everyone from Burt Bacharach to Tony Bennett to The Roots to Paul McCartney to Allen Toussaint; the list seems to only grow.
Costello's first album, My Aim Is True (1977), has encore numbers like "Alison" and The Clash-inspired "Watching the Detectives." His other youthful albums, This Year's Model and Armed Forces, with his ace band The Attractions, feature an angry young man with a fantastic vocabulary and the ability to throw spiteful darts at subjects like apathy, love, shitty radio and the establishment in songs like "Oliver's Army," "Radio Radio" and "Two Little Hitlers."
A younger Costello can be remembered for famously refusing to play "Less Than Zero" on Saturday Night Live and, instead, going into one of the most frenzied performances of "Radio Radio" ever seen ("I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, there's no reason to do this song here," he explained to the studio audience, before launching into the tune.) Costello didn't have local preachers and judges after him, but he did get banned from SNL for years (check out the SNL 25th anniversary on YouTube, when he performs "Radio" with the Beastie Boys).
In the early-to-mid-'80s, super albums (Punch the Clock, King of America and Blood & Chocolate) were released, as Costello and crew matured creatively. That's not to say Costello lost his punk roots. He changed his focus to the cultural emptiness of America on "Brilliant Mistake" and wrote what still may be the creepiest love/obsession song, "I Want You."
Costello's appreciation for the greater tome of music, particularly American music, began to show more as he aged. Almost Blue (1981) is a collection of Costello's favorite Country & Western numbers. Highlights include Jerry Chestnut's "Good Year for the Roses" and Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams."
Midpoint in his career, Costello started to branch out and collaborate with contemporaries and influences like Paul McCartney and Chrissie Hynde on 1989's Spike. Full-length collaborations soon followed with the likes of The Brodsky Quartet, Bill Frisell and, most recently, with The New Basement Tapes, a sort of supergroup that merges their original music with recently uncovered Dylan lyrics.
Costello's one-man show at The Florida Theatre will no doubt connect all these periods and provide some great insight regarding the stories behind the songs. Granted, there most likely will be more Baby Boomers than gaggles of teenaged girls, and there probably won't be law enforcement officials placed throughout the theater to ensure he doesn't gyrate too much.
But Elvis Costello is an entertainer all the same. When Costello was last here, accompanied by his newest band, The Imposters, as well as a massive spinning wheel of songs and go-go dancers in cages, he took a moment to step out on the tip of the stage with nothing more than a small Gibson acoustic guitar. It took him a couple of minutes to get the catcalls to die down, but then — sans microphone or electricity — Costello treated the crowd to renditions of "A Slow Drag with Josephine" and "Alison." He echoed his massive, soulful voice off every aged crack and cranny in the theater's ornate plaster. Chances are the evening has a little more of this type of intimacy, considering the man's undeniable brilliance and style.