Once new wave's most lovable Angry Young Man, Elvis Costello didn't pretend to be either angry or young Saturday night at Constitution Hall.
Playing an often noisy lead guitar and backed by a stripped-down three-piece combo that included longtime band mates Steve Nieve on keyboards and drummer Pete Thomas, the allegedly moody Costello hit the fans with nothing but smiles and gratitude as he perused all periods of his 25-year career. The briskly paced 140-minute set included "Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror" from "Spike," "Complicated Shadows" from "All This Useless Beauty," "Mood Swings" from the soundtrack to "The Big Lebowski," and "Leave My Kitten Alone," a Little Willie John song he'd covered for some versions of "Blood & Chocolate."
Costello also threw his body and soul into covers, including "Slow Down" by the Beatles, "Suspicious Minds" and "You Really Got a Hold on Me." He also banged through "Girl Talk," a song he'd written that both Dave Edmunds and Linda Ronstadt had hits with. Though Costello always came off as too literate and his lyrics not literal enough for him to be a great country songwriter, his countrified version of "Indoor Fireworks" evidenced his affection for the genre.
But the crowd, reverential throughout, was happiest when their hero surfed through the new wave chapters of his songbook, which he did generously: "Alison," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" and "Man Out of Time."
Those who came to Constitution Hall straight from the antiwar march held earlier in the day just down the street were no doubt heartened by his coupling of the Nick Lowe-penned "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love & Understanding" with the anti-Falklands War gem, "Shipbuilding."
Costello's third and final encore included "Radio Radio," which had him singing: "And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools." Considering that the concert was promoted by Clear Channel, to many listeners the guiltiest party in the demise of American pop radio, the song selection seemed downright rebellious.
-- Dave McKenna