Live: Elvis Costello Earns Forgiveness For His Sins

Despite claims he would never play with any of the Attractions again, he and keyboardist rock Milan.

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

band.

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

Costello's

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

Voice," a

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" (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

later this

year."

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

sound of

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]