November 12, 2002

Elvis Costello charms U of C with tales of romantic woe

W: I haven't been here in sunny historic Hyde Park all that long, but when word spread through the office that MAB had signed up Elvis Costello I intuited that they'd hit a Jose-Canseco-off-the-restaurant-in-the-SkyDome-type home run. Suffice it to say that the Maroon office collectively flipped out when we found out about the show. I counted 8 current and former Maroon staffers in attendance, and there would have been more had the show not sold out. If we're representative of the student body, which who knows, then, well, yeah.

P: I have been here in sunny historic Hyde Park for four years, and when word spread through my brain that MAB had picked up their option on getting good musicians to play, I felt like they had hit a Carlos Martinez-off-Jose-Canseco's-head-type home run. Which is to say, it wouldn't be a home run if it weren't so abundantly obvious that Elvis Costello is probably one of the better rock n' roll-leaning individuals on the planet as of 8:50 p.m. EST right now. This is kind of a complicated point I'm making, and we shouldn't couch this argument (entirely) in Cansecoania. What I mean: WTG Major Activities Board. I headed into Saturday night's pretty goddamn excited about the Irish. My sister's Irish (like, from Dublin) boyfriend landed at O'Hare (from Dublin, on Aer Lingus, no less) not two hours before the show, and he shrugged off a case of jetlag and came along, which primed my Gaelic-appreciation engine. Elvis Costello is also famously Irish, and my engine was made aware of this. Suffice it to say, I was on the cultural-appreciation equivalent of a bender-I think I might have even been affecting a bit of a lilt (or is it a brogue?) by the time I found my way to a balcony seat (hey, campus celebrity coming through) in Mandel Hall. So yo then Whetster, what's your story?

W: Sadly I do not have a sister to have an Irish boyfriend, nor a brother to have an Irish girlfriend, or any such iteration. No connection to the Irish to speak of. I do, however, like the rock music, and Elvis Costello is famously a rock musician. So I was very pedestrianally there for the rock. He didn't sound too much like rock at first, despite sounding pretty Irish, at least to my untrained ears; the guitar wasn't really present for quite awhile. Instead, his remarkable voice—it's even more impressive in concert—was primarily supported by Steve Nieve, his long-time keyboardist. And Nieve, possibly due to his cool name, was able to bring the rock as well as some more avant keyb chops that wouldn't have been inappropriate backing for, say, Björk. Which isn't to say that the rock wasn't lost, only that it became clear early on that Nieve was creating remarkable soundscapes over a solid pop rhythm section.

P: OK, um, Björk is terrible, and I am uncomfortable being involved in a discussion that references her aesthetic proximity to Declan "Elvis" MacManus "Costello." So I'm sidling slowly away from that beartrap. I was talking about Elvis Costello… so the show was three hours long. This is, in my brief but still very impressive experience as a concertgoer 1981-2002, an extremely long show. While not quite accessing the high-era Springsteen "rock concert as blue collar purification ritual" ordeal as I understand it, Elvis Costello's set was, to quickly end what is becoming an extremely convoluted sentence, pretty dope. Other than being put off by the inclusion of less familiar numbers from When I Was Cruel (a venal sin, given the alleged sweetness of said recording) and the daunting nature of Elvis Costello qua rock legend, possessor of a mammoth back catalog, defender of the pub rock realm, I enjoyed myself. What I mean, again: This was, barring my witness of Pavement's second-to-last American show, the best concert I have ever seen, even though it was three hours long, even though the pacing was a little off, even though it's a cliché. I was scared at the end of "I Want You." I was actually shaking. He tacked the lyrics to "Suspicious Minds" on to "Alison," ferchrissakes.

W: I'm not saying that Björk isn't terrible… never mind. I think what I'm saying is that most anything Costello does is remarkably sophisticated musically while still being completely accessible thanks to his pop gifts and willingness to tackle a direct emotional connection to the audience. While not shying away from complicated arrangements that freed Nieve up for improvisation, he was able to grip the audience in a way that I hadn't seen at a concert before. When he chose to do "It's Still Too Soon to Know" on an acoustic guitar at the edge of the stage away from any mikes, the crowd went completely quiet for the three minutes or so of the song's duration. Part of this had to do with the fact that no one could really believe his voice was filling Mandel Hall, part of it had to do with the content of the song, but it also had to do with the fact that he's a subtle master at creating a bond with an audience through his stage presence. After "It's Still Too Soon to Know" the audience was his. During his harrowing performance of "I Want You," during which he toed the line between heartbroken obsessive and creepy stalker (Costello has this way of making post-romantic fixation both natural and incredibly disturbing), some tool answered his rhetorical question "did you call his name out when he held you down?" with a shouted "yeah!" Everyone looked at him like he'd dropkicked a baby. Limb-rending was contemplated by everyone in earshot. It's rare for an audience to be this captivated, and the captivation builds on itself. The collective realization of the rarity of kind of audience-performer relationship was clear from just how much everyone hated this guy after one dumb comment.

P: It would have been a shame if someone had lost limbs, but, let's be honest, he or she would have deserved to spend the rest of their life having severe difficulties cutting meat and things of that nature. To front on Elvis Costello is a bad idea. Fronting on him last Saturday verges on inconceivable. For the unitiated, it was some shit, I'd reckon. I would further reckon that Dr. Wax did a brisk trade in used copies of Armed Forces, Imperial Bedroom and their brethren on Sunday morning. For fans, it was welcome confirmation of their faith. Sitting 100 feet from the action, I was dumbfounded for three hours, and walking on air for the rest of the night. I've only known three things in this world to render me speechless: football bloopers, pretty women, and the emotional trauma associated with the death of family members and beloved pets. You can add Elvis Costello to that list.

W: I think Elvis Costello might have fallen into a tie with pretty women between death and bloopers for me, unless by football bloopers we're talking Ernest Byner fumbling on the one yard line during the AFC Championship, which would throw the whole system into disrepair.

P: Y'all can't see this but I am punching Whet in the neck for fighting dirty. You bitch. You lousy bitch.