- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Elvis Costello demands a great deal from his fans, forcing them to tag along as he satiates his curiosity for country, classical and R&B; recordings.

In concert, the erstwhile Declan McManus asks even more to embrace his new album's tracks over chestnuts such as "Alison" and "Accidents Will Happen."

The latter songs were among many hits missing from Sunday's concert at Wolf Trap's Filene Center in Vienna. Instead of playing them, Mr. Costello packed in eight cuts from his justly lauded new album, "When I Was Cruel."

Most bands cause a mass exodus to the restrooms when they foist the "new album" on the crowd.

But "Cruel," Mr. Costello's first self-described "loud" album in nearly a decade, didn't shake the crowd's loyalty, even though the audience cheered heartiest for classics such as "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and "Pump It Up."

His selections, however, missed the best tracks on "Cruel." Why, for instance, include the histrionics of "15 Petals" over the gorgeous "My Little Blue Window"? Why bother dragging out the half-spoken, half-sung "Episode of Blonde" when the live results sounded as though he were racing to catch up to the syllables?

Mr. Costello no longer resembles the guitar-neck-thin punkster who brashly took the"king" of rock 'n' roll's first name and brought Buddy Holly's glasses back into vogue. Yet the messages lurking within "Radio, Radio" and "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" sound as relevant today as ever.

The frightening headlines coming out of the Middle East each day make the latter track's simple, heartfelt message as timeless as its driving rhythms.

The concert opened with "45," a clever new song that looks at life through the perspective of old vinyl singles.

"Spooky Girlfriend," another fresh track, lost its ethereal sheen in the live performance, but the band added a heavier sound that made its lyrics bite even deeper.

Mr. Costello seemed to be in fine voice throughout, backed by the Imposters, two-thirds of his classic band of yore, the Attractions. The singer's harsh, nasal inflections, carried forth by Wolf Trap's crystalline acoustics, never wavered.

Less consistent was his phrasing, in which he seemed to lag behind his band mates on several songs.

It could have been an artistic gambit by a man known for tinkering madly with his songs in concert. But the effect only served to remind one that he will blow out 48 candles on his birthday cake come August.

Switching guitars madly, Mr. Costello appeared comfortable returning to his rock roots. He did offer some jazzlike inflections on "Clown Strike," but the bulk of the affair kept his genre-hopping in check. He also gave himself a few brief, blistering guitar moments.

He let off on the accelerator long enough for a quasi-acoustic take on "All This Useless Beauty," a gorgeous ballad and a rare moment of tranquillity in a night dedicated to vitriol.

The normally verbose singer kept the between-song banter to a minimum, save a playful swipe at Washington's slick corporate types as a lead-in to "When I Was Cruel No. 2."

The songs spoke for him.

"I Hope You're Happy Now," arguably the best kiss-off song in his arsenal, poured on the guitars and resentment, while "Clowntime Is Over" pushed the Imposters through impressive paces with the song's mercurial treatment.

Longtime collaborator Steve Nieve's puckish organ peeked through the lyrical splendor of "Tart," another new track. The keyboardist thrashed in place like an addled grunge rocker all evening, his familiar organ notes tipping off fans whenever a favorite song was about to be sprung.

Mr. Costello sprinkled some lesser-known nuggets into the playlist, such as "Waiting for the End of the World," "Lipstick Vogue" and "Beyond Belief," the latter a pale imitation of its sumptuous recorded version.

Opening act Joe Henry supplied a thoughtful acoustic set, which brimmed with his guttural reflections and idiosyncratic melodies. When he slyly suggested the crowd stick around for Mr. Costello's upcoming set, he earned points both for humor and for understanding his part in the evening.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide