Elvis was in the building on Monday night in Portland. Pop music legend Elvis Costello played a solo concert before a large crowd at the State Theatre.
The 59-year-old from England drew from a repertoire that spans more than three decades during the two-hour-plus performance. Subjects ranging from intimate romance to power politics changed from tune to tune, as did the acoustic and electric guitars he selected from among an array at center stage.
It took a couple of tunes to get the sound right. The lead tune,”Jack of all Parades,” suffered from a sharp, trebly sound. But things soon evened out and “Shabby Doll” was an early triumph with the singer punctuating the song’s tough lyrics with heavy reverb guitar chords.
“I Felt the Chill” was one of a number of somber folk-styled tunes that established a sensitive mood that was furthered by the poignant words of “The Comedians.”
Along with those that usually adorn his head, Costello has worn many musical hats over his long career. His dabbling in jazz, classical, theater music and other genres has assured his position as a sophisticated, far-reaching talent.
Going rogue at one point, he sat for a version of the classic “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” after humorously noting the “checkered history” of the State Theatre. He also reflected on his grandfather’s career as a musician playing for silent movies and sailing the seas with cruise ship bands.
“Every Day I Write the Book” prompted a sing-along and “Jimmy Standing in the Rain” had a nice close with Costello singing soulfully off-mike.
Things started to rock as Costello strapped on an electric hollow-body guitar and launched into a reggae rhythm that he looped using various foot pedals until the sound was just right (and loud). It all developed into a raucous take on his classic “Watching the Detectives.” It was clear the artist enjoyed putting out the powerful sounds as he leaned toward the audience with a sort of “is that cool or what” look on his face.
Later, he took to his Telecaster for the inevitable “Alison” after repeating how the evening was all about “love, deceit, betrayal and misery.” Funny but true, true but funny is the way to take this fellow’s pronouncements. He’s all the way into his art.
Encores placed Costello at an electric piano for a moving take of “Almost Blue.”
Though he may have borrowed a stage name, there’s no doubt that this Elvis is the real thing.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.