Saturday, March 20, 2004

Concert review: Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve, Oriental Theatre, March 16

Elvis Costello's new album North clearly reflects his divorce from Cait O'Riordan and marriage to Diana Krall; it was impossible to listen to "Alibi" on 2002's When I Was Cruel without wondering if his previous marriage was dissolving. Since North is a collection of orchestral ballads, it made sense for him to go with more stripped-down arrangements for its supporting tour. For most of the songs, he played an acoustic guitar or nothing at all while Steve Nieve joined him on grand piano. The setting showed off his skill as a songwriter, the unique timbre of his voice and his ability to show off his songs without mimicking the recorded versions of them. For example, he took advantage of the Oriental Theatre's superior acoustics by ending "This House Is Empty Now" by walking away from the microphone a singing unamplified.

Not that it was an entirely hushed evening. Particularly for his some of his older songs and others off the "loud" When I Was Cruel, he hauled out a hollow body Gibson, noting that the other Elvis used the same model for his '68 comeback special, although Costello used distortion pedals that Presley didn't. The audience provided hand clapping as percussion for "Pump It Up."

The audience did include one heckler, who started out by yelling, "You fag!" and only getting worse from there. As Elvis's one-time TV costar Lisa Simpson pondered, "Why would they come to our concert just to boo us?" Especially when tickets started at around $50. Elvis challenged him from the stage, but security escorted the buffoon out. As for other interaction with the audience, he was perhaps too humble to respond to the woman loudly proclaiming her love for him, but he did suggest to the person whose cell rang that they should have their ring tone set to one of his songs to guarantee hearing something good.

He ended the 2 1/2 hour show with some new songs, which he claimed were from his next album South; it wasn't clear if he was being facetious about the title. But he did acknowledge preferring the more intimate setting to last summer's Taste of Chicago appearance, expressing gratitude to not be surrounded by hot dogs and bees.

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