Review of concert at Royal Albert Hall, London on 1982-12-27
Melody Maker, 1983-01-08
- Colin Irwin

 

REMOTE CONTROL
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ELVIS COSTELLO & THE ATTRACTIONS Royal Albert Hall, London.
0NE day, one day, the tolerance level of some poor long-
suffering music loving sod is going to snap completely and
he'll go out at dead of night and detonate a bomb under the
Albert. Believe me, he'll be doing us all a favour. The
sound ricocheting round the huge emporium like a warehouse
of exploding shrapnel, the army of moronic jobsworths, the
arm-wrestling for a space at the bar, the constant
exhausting strain of trying to decipher even the simplest
song introduction, the complete impossibility of following
a lyric... I was tempted to do the job myself. 
Yet, furthering his bid to become Frank Sinatra, Costello
was back there a year on, blending into the pomp in his
bow-tie and new slim-line elegance, guiding us all towards
maturity and responsibility. No orchestra this time, but
everything else was subtly geared to the idea of Costello
as the all-round family entertainer. 
There was Elvis the solo performer, alone in the spotlight
with an acoustic guitar; Elvis the rock'n'roll prophet,
delving deep into reserves of passions and profundity;
Elvis the pop star, coyly plugging his latest album; Elvis
the country pretender, reminding me of "Almost Blue" and
the celebrated excursion to Nashville; Elvis the crooner,
standing bolt upright next to the piano, clutching the mike
to his breast while Steve Nieve stretched the keys to new
heights of delicate intricacy; and finally there was Elvis
in party (party) mood demolishing the post-Christmas blues
and bringing back the band plus horns for a farewell
knees-up. 
It was all so controlled, so right... I just wondered what
the hell he was doing in such a decrepit, impersonal pile
of bricks like the Albert, and where on earth he would 
logically turn up next? "The Morecambe & Wise Show"?
"Celebrity Squares"? the Royal Command Performance?
Princess Diana's birthday party? 
The faithful naturally held no such reservations. This was
an event and it held no place for critical sniping. Elvis
swept them along in a wave of Messiah-like command and you
had to admire the ease of his control over them. He
certainly shouldn't be condemned for his lust for
adventure and his boldness, but at times he treads
dangerous water without the slightest flicker of concern
from his flock of disciples. This blinkered adulation
allows, for example, the pomposity of his curious set at
the piano, and the epic overblown arrangements of some
of his new material. At such moments, only the
innovatory brilliance of Nieve's keyboard work
(without doubt the star of the show as far as I'm 
concerned) and the versatile excellence of the
Attractions in general saved Costello from total
absurdity. When the Attractions strike out with a
vengeance, as they did in fits and starts at the
Albert, then it's easy to be caught up in the
emotional frenzy of it all. 
During "Shabby Doll" a guy in a raincoat was even
moved to leap on stage, knock Elvis backwards and
grab the mike... Elvis looked tickled pink at this
isolated outburst of hysteria. Costello's magic is
best observed in his radical reappraisals of his
own best-known works. A beautifully sedate
rendering of "Alison", a hugely dramatic "Watching
The Detectives", a raucous "Head To Toe", a 
mysterious jangling "Clubland", a menacing "Shot
With His Own Gun", a bubbling "Good Year For The
Roses". Yet even here his voice sounded shot and
the overall effect vaguely uneasy. 
Maybe I just have a blind spot about that voice
anyway. He always seems to be trying so hard to
be blistering and intense, and where others
unquestioningly worship, I find my own conviction
in the man severely lacking. Anymore uncomfortable
shams like this laboriously contrived charade at

the Albert and he'll have dug his own grave. 

COLIN IRWIN
Melody Maker, Jan 8th., 1983

(Picture: Tom Sheehan)