MILAN, Italy -- Elvis Costello is a liar. But I, for one, forgive him.
"Never before, never again," he once told his fans.
Two years ago, when Costello released a five-CD singles box set that
portrayed his '96 American solo tour with ex-Attractions keyboard player
Steve Nieve, a label on the cover announced that this would be the
first and the last time he played with Nieve or anyone else in his former
But he lied, if a little white lie. In fact, in the last two weeks he has
wandered with his fellow piano player around the Italian peninsula for a
10-date theater tour that ended Monday in Milan's Teatro Lirico.
And after having seen the "other" Elvis and Nieve perform together, who
could blame him for fibbing? In his Milan gig, in particular, Elvis
Costello showed he can brilliantly contradict himself and get away with it.
Dressed entirely in black, short-haired and with his famous black glasses
in place, he opened the set with "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone" from his
last studio work, 1996's All This Useless Beauty. Nieve followed
elegant voice on his grand piano with a mixture of classical style and
rock rhythm, banging his long-haired head against the air.
The duo alternated between soft moods, such as "Unfailing Welcome To The
piece of Nieve's yet-to-be-published opera Parassite, to more
uplifting tunes such as "Little Palaces," on which Costello strapped on an
acoustic guitar to play a country-western melody.
The rocker, who rose out of the late 1970s new-wave British invasion, then
remained alone on the empty stage, illuminated now only by a torch. "Pink
Floyd have pigs, U2 have PopMart, I have this," he joked, referring to the
flame. Then, from the strings of his guitar, he summoned the notes of one
of his most famous songs, "Alison." Costello sat on a stool in the dark
theater, his silhouette painted against the ceiling by torch.
"When I was young, I used to go in a small room, and play like this," he
recalled for a crowd that seemed hypnotized.
Throughout his two-hour performance, Costello also looked back on some of
the most famous pages of his 20-year career. He offered such classics as "I
Want You," "Shipbuilding," "Almost Blue" and "Man Out of Time." He also
unveiled future plans after playing
HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Costello,_Elvis/God_Give_Me_Strength.ram"> "God Give Me Strength"
"God Give Me Strength"(RealAudio excerpt), the initial results of
his much-anticipated collaboration with composer Burt Bacharach.
"We have already penned 12 songs," Costello announced. "And we're gonna go
in to the studio this summer to record them. I hope we will be back here
For fan Giampietro Giachery, Costello has developed a certain familiar
stage-presence over the years. "As time passes, it's funny how he and [former American Music Club leader] Mark
Eitzel almost look the same: same hair, same voice and the same way of
singing, wandering around the stage and the public," said Giachery, 30.
In fact, just like the San Francisco songwriter sometimes does, Costello
closed the show without amplification. With his bare voice and the lone
the piano, he belted out "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No.4" and then
stopped to shake hands with the crowd.
It was quintessential Costello. Four encores later and the devotees in the
crowd still hadn't had enough. [Wed., Feb. 18, 1998,
9 a.m. PST]