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Review of concert from 1977-07-__: with Attractions, London, Island Records video room (private function)
NME, 1977-08-06
- Nick Kent




Elvis Costello

NOT REALLY yer actual bona fide gig review, this, seeing as the geezer and `is combo were only playing in the Island video room for a bunch of Island reps who were there for a single ganders at what they're actually peddling into all those record stores out in the sticks.

But then again, our El put on the best show I've seen since Talking Heads at the Roundhouse - and, God, he's just so damnably good that if you're going to get all the usual superlatives rammed down your brain-plate on this latest hot property, then it might as well be me who's doing it to you.

Anyway, Costello's younger than you thought (only 22, one year older than Johnny Rotten as it happens), he's not too flashy, plays great sparse guitar, and he's got all these amazing self-penned songs going for him. The stuff from the album is great as it is - and it's even better when you hear it live because the band is really hot.

Former Chilli Willi drummer Pete Thomas does not merely keep a rock-steady beat, but he adds all these embellishments which perpetually take it away from routine, while former Quiver bassist Bruce Thomas (no relation) is the perfect sympathetic counterpart. That just leaves an organist, Steven Young, who looks like Costello's brother and who plays in an eminently suitable, particularly Doors-like style, both understated and very, very sinister - the perfect accompanying tool for Costello's often peculiarly sinister songs of revenge and guilt.

Stand-outs from the "Aim" collection on this showing were "Blame It On Cain" (featuring Costello's only real guitar solo), "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes" and "Waiting For The World To End" - but, God, each song has something going for it.

Better by far, though - and this is what really excited me - is the new stuff, principally the three closing numbers, which brought the performance to a riveting climax. This triumvirate - the tortured reggae "Watching The Detectives", the intense "Lipstick Vogue", and finally "Lip Service" - take Costello's already exceptional talents onto a whole new level of intrigue.

"Watching The Detectives", for example, is a song about a couple watching Starsky And Hutch until the guy notices his girlfriend has forsaken him totally for the TV action, and he promptly kills her. It's absolutely loaded with brillant lines and couplets that simply jump out and bedazzle.

Forget all those Springsteen comparisons - the latter'll die before he ever writes anything half as good as this.

Forget the Van Morrison schtick too. They're worlds apart, and Elvis is currently worlds better if "A Period Of Transition" is Morrison's best form.

The amazing thing is that after the "Detectives" epiphany, Costello simply outdoes himself first with "Lipstick Vogue", full of pained, vengeful longing and a sudden, stuttering, single-note guitar solo break that says it all - and finally "Lip Service". "That's all you'll get from me," he screams; this is a song of vengeance in the classic "Positively Fourth Street" tradition. Hearing it just reminded me how long it's been since rock songs have been that sharp, that great. Oh, and forget that "Balladeer of the New Wave" nonsense some fool in the comics tried to stick him with last week. When all the self- conscious new-wavers are drowning, Elvis will be on top. No shit.

Like he says in "Detectives, it just "takes his little fingers to blow you away".

Nick Kent

The Elvis Costello Home Page

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