Monday, September 23

Royce concert by Costello relevant, mellow

Artist winds down residence at UCLA with last series of performances

It’s fitting that Elvis Costello and his Imposters pulled
out the impassioned rocker “(What’s So Funny About)
Peace, Love and Understanding” Friday night at Royce Hall, in
Costello’s last series of performances as
Artist-in-Partial-Residence. Like a fifth-year student anchored in
summer school to fulfill his science GE, Costello finally satisfied
the quota he committed to the past year under UCLAlive. But in
typical fashion, he pulled it off with fiery gusto.

Despite the show’s low-key and quietly intense set, the
classic anthem was a song he couldn’t not play to wind down
the night. With drums pounding, six-strings ringing and
multi-instrumental phenomenon Steve Nieve frantically alternating
from grand piano to keyboard to organ, fans filled the aisles and
crammed the front of Royce Hall singing the words Costello crooned
with guttural conviction, really the only way he knows how to

The song was written in the ’70s, but even the worst cynic
could see its relevance that night, even with words that at one
time were more suited for the Woodstock set: “And as I walk
on through troubled times my spirit gets so downhearted
sometimes.” And then the glorious build up: “So where
are the strong and who are the trusted? And where is the
haaaaaarmony? Sweet harmony?”

Excepting perhaps the grooving “Clubland,” it was
the most invigorating moment of the night. The multi-talented
Costello, who treads more musical styles than any angry British man
should, played a predominately slow-tempo set to the seated Royce
crowd. This wasn’t the restless rock star who spontaneously
combusted last year at Ackerman Grand Ballroom with rousing calling
cards like “No Action” and “You Belong to
Me,” but was the aging elder statesman more attuned to
Bacharach than The Beatles.

But Costello still appeased the fawning masses with slow-burning
masterpieces such as “All this Useless Beauty,”
“I Want to Vanish” and “Shipbuilding.” Even
“Watching the Detectives” was tuned down from its
reggae-tinged edge, giving it a menacingly swaggering flair.

Often railed on for his distant and at times bratty persona,
Costello rarely had a hard time connecting to his most devoted fans
during the show. Take the yearning ballad “Tart,” off
last year’s
I-could-reinvent-myself-again-but-what-fun-would-that-be album,
“When I Was Cruel.” The classic exercise in pop
songcraft had the crowd singing along with Costello with such
earnestness that the man himself stepped away the mic to let his
people shine. “It’s like a choir of angels,” he
said later with a toothy grin.

“When you get to be our age all the years become a
blur,” Costello said after one song. “One minute
you’re Artist-in-Residence, next thing you know Sonic Youth
has taken your place.” That erroneous remark could be taken
several ways: as oblivious, hilarious or charming. During these
troubled times, we at UCLA wouldn’t want, or expect, anything
less of him.

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