Elvis Costello Rocks ACLU Free-Speech Benefit Dinner

Singer/songwriter previewed upcoming Burt Bacharach collaboration and Courtney Love tore her dress.

LOS ANGELES -- Elvis Costello's solo performance was the highlight of a

benefit for the American Civil Liberties Union held Tuesday in Beverly Hills that also

served as a tribute dinner for Mercury Records Group President Danny Goldberg.

Courtney Love, who arrived late, took the honors for the most glamorous glitterata

attending.

"I want to acknowledge my admiration for the much-maligned group, Hollywood liberals,"

Goldberg said as he accepted the Torch of Liberty award which was

presented to him as part of the benefit.

He was referring to many of the 600 guests at the event, which, along with

rock singers Costello and Love, included other music-industry players and

renowned Los Angeles liberals. The ACLU of Southern California reaped more than

$650,000 from the benefit.

Hosted by Michael Moore, creator of such humorous, politically minded documentaries

as "Roger & Me," the fundraiser also honored longtime activist Margery Tabankin, who

currently heads director Steven Spielberg's Righteous Persons Foundation. The dinner

featured appearances by California State Assembly Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa,

liberal stalwart Stanley Sheinbaum and American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers President Marilyn Bergman.

After all the speeches, which included numerous accolades for Goldberg, Costello took

the stage. The pop icon -- whose new collaboration with composer Burt Bacharach,

Painted From Memory, will be released on Sept. 29 by Mercury Records -- wore a

black suit, black shirt, purple tie and red-lensed glasses.

The slim, clean-shaven Costello was a ringer for the new-wave guru he was 20 years

ago. He accompanied himself on guitar, chatting amiably between songs and joining

Moore in making a few jokes at President Clinton's expense.

"This song has been in the works for about 18 months," he said, introducing "Toledo," a

collaboration with Bacharach. "It's about a man facing the moment where he has to

confess his infidelity. We didn't imagine at the time that we were writing topical songs."

Costello sang powerfully, his voice as clear as ever.

He completed his short set with his Nick Lowe-penned classic "(What's So Funny 'Bout)

Peace, Love and Understanding," saying it applied to the push for peace in Ireland. He

wryly suggested that Clinton, who recently visited that country, had learned all he knows

about Irish folklore from Lord of the Dance.

"For those of you unfamiliar with Lord of the Dance, it's sort-of like a Celtic 'Triumph of

the Will'," he joked.

During the ceremonies, Goldberg -- looking relaxed and casual -- read his thank-you

remarks from the teleprompters. He acknowledged the guidance of his "loving and

cosmic" parents and also thanked his wife, music attorney Rosemary Carroll, for her

patience.

His heartfelt remarks downplayed his longtime fight for free speech, notably against

censorship in music. He left the stage to a standing ovation.

In her typical fashion, the irascible Love arrived late and lingered outside the dining

room, fiddling with her dress. Though her first Hole album in four years, Celebrity

Skin, had just hit record stores that day, Love seemed right then more concerned

with her wardrobe than her record sales.

"It's a Vera Wang," she said, referring to her outfit. "I got it today but it ripped." She waved

a trailing piece of the gauzy, lavender fabric sadly. "I think I need a safety pin."

With pink rhinestones in her hair, viciously high shoes and a stunning new figure, Love

was easily the most glamorous personage in attendance. However, she was not necessarily the

most controversial.

During his opening remarks, Moore created a bit of a stir with several jokes about

Clinton's scandalous affair with a White House intern. Later, offstage, Moore said the

uneasy response to his quips was understandable. "I don't think liberals want to hear

that Clinton is done for," Moore said. "He's only got a few weeks left in office."

Among the other notables who attended the event were Hustler magazine

publisher Larry Flynt, who left early; actor Mike Farrell, an anti-death penalty activist;

actor Tim Reid; and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise ("The Sound of Music").

While the celebrities in attendance were plentiful, it was Costello who perhaps left the

greatest impression on the crowd.

"I can't give you an unbiased opinion of Elvis' performance," grinned Lee

Masters, chairman of E! Entertainment and current head of the ACLU Foundation, a post

held in the past by actor Burt Lancaster and Goldberg. "I'm such a fan. I really liked the

new Bacharach song he played."