Costello Gets Down To Basics On Current Tour

Singer/songwriter treats fans to stripped-down versions of songs from his lengthy career.

LOS ANGELES -- For his fans, Elvis Costello's current tour could hardly offer more direct access to the singer/songwriter and his music.

Currently on a 25-date North American tour, which runs through June 26 in New York, the onetime angry young new-waver and current genre-jumping pop composer is presenting his songs in stripped-down form, accompanied only by his own guitar work and the keyboard playing of Steve Nieve (born Steve Nason).

Fans at one show are almost certain to see a considerably different show than fans at other stops on the tour. After his two-hour-plus performance at the Wiltern Theatre here Tuesday, Costello said as many as 15 songs vary from show to show.

"Every night I come off and say there's at least nine other songs I could

have played," said Costello, who wore a black suit and his trademark black-rimmed glasses.

Tuesday's performance -- the first of two consecutive dates at the Wiltern

-- was the seventh show of the tour. The outing marks Costello's first

series of gigs since he played a few dates in October with pop songwriter Burt Bacharach, with whom he collaborated on 1998's Painted From Memory.

Costello's show drew from his entire 22-year career, spanning such early hits as "Alison" and such later ones as the title track of Painted From Memory and that album's "God Give Me Strength" (RealAudio excerpt).

Before playing "This House Is Empty Now" (RealAudio excerpt), also from Painted From Memory, Costello joked about the song's subject matter: a failed relationship. "It happens to a lot of men these days, where they have to divide up half of their Eddie Money records," he said. As he brought the tune to a close, Costello stepped back from the mic until he was several feet away. "Empty now," he sang, his voice resonating through the house despite his distance from the mic.

Costello managed to maintain an intimate feel despite the Wiltern's

2,000-seat capacity. "You could really hear his lyrics and feel the

emotions behind the songs," said Jenna, a 25-year-old fan who leads a

local band called Jenna Music. "When there's a band behind him, there's

distraction."

"I think he's a musical genius, a poet," she continued. "His notoriety hasn't reached its peak. Society has not grasped this person and his artistry and it might not be until after he no longer exists that people realize."

Costello stood just to the right of center-stage, while Nieve sat to the left between his grand piano and keyboards. The lighting, which changed from song to song, formed a semicircle enveloping the two musicians. "I Hope You're Happy Now"

(RealAudio excerpt) was treated with a reddish-gold hue, which seemed to emphasize the song's indignant lyrics. "I never loved you anyhow," Costello sang. "If I knew then what I know now/ I hope you're happy now."

While Costello played guitar for most songs, Nieve carried all the accompaniment on a few tunes, including "Painted From Memory" and the ballad "You Lie Sweetly."

For a later section of the show he left Costello alone onstage. Costello's solo rendition of "Radio Sweetheart," the first song he ever recorded, brought a sing-along response from the crowd. Costello joked that he had imagined himself way back then on the Wiltern stage, with three women in sequined dresses singing behind him. "They never turned up," he said. "But I have a sneaking suspicion there are some guys here who wouldn't mind putting on some satin and sequins."

1978's "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," with its snaky guitar line, also provoked a strong crowd response.

"It was phenomenal," fan Richael Gabrels, 26, said after the show. "You couldn't ask for a better night than Elvis Costello standing in front of you with his guitar, with that voice that just rides straight into your heart every song, every time."