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THE COSTELLO WATCH : NIGHT 2: SUBDUED ‘N’ SENSITIVE

When Elvis Costello opened a five-night stand at the Beverly Theatre on Wednesday by playing a fiery set with his longtime backup band the Attractions, it proved to be bang-up rock ‘n’ roll at its best: visceral, cerebral and pretty darned noisy all at once.

But its greatness was predictable, given the conservative nature of that night’s greatest-hits-oriented set list. Could he chart a more adventurous course in the various formats he’d employ on the four subsequent nights and still be just as consistently captivating?

Place any and all bets on the affirmative side, judging from the stellar second night. Thursday’s show found Costello just as much of an attraction without the Attractions--on stage all by his lonesome for the first half of the show, and surrounded by compadre T-Bone Burnett and the loose configuration of souls known as the Confederates later on.

In contrast with the first night’s loud ‘n’ tight aesthetics, Thursday’s show was subdued ‘n’ sensitive during the solo segment, then ragged but right in the rootsy Confederates segment.

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The highlight: a gorgeous solo reading of “I Want You,” an unnerving song from the new “Blood and Chocolate” album likely to stand as the most powerful and emotionally naked number Costello has ever dared to croon. During the crucial last lines in this dissection of lost, unrequited love, the singer stopped strumming his electric guitar and finished the final, delicate bars a cappella. That tactic was a real risk, knowing how frequently his 1984 solo date at the Universal Amphitheatre was punctuated by the senseless shrieking of fans, but this audience didn’t make a peep. Hurray, Elvis. Hurray, crowd.


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