|The Elvis Costello
Review of concert from 1977-09-10: London, Crystal Palace Garden
Party - with the Attractions
Storming the Palace... And Wilting in the Ozone
A LACK OF COHERENCE was the most outstanding feature of this year's Crystal Palace Garden Party bill: one perennial big name and three average ones thrown together in a ragged attempt to fill the 15,000 capacity.
Let's face it, few people could have been there through a desire to see, for instance, both Elvis Costello and Brand X.
So it's just as well that Crystal Palace isn't too bad a place to kill time - at least, not when the weather's good, which it mercifully was. Bring your own distractions and wait for some on stage seemed to be the mood of the day. As a jaded friend pointed out, there's no contact high anymore.
Indeed, this year's Garden Party had a definite air of resigned sufferance about it, both in the lacklustre bill and general concept. What is the point of paying over the odds for the dubious benefit of sitting on the grass to watch four or five bands you probably didn't want to see in the first place while you wait for the one you did? Maybe it's just an elaborate ploy to provide more time for perusal of the disposable trinket stands, or maybe there isn't any point at all - just that old habits die hard.
The latter could be one of the reasons why I arrived late and missed most of Crawler's set, but we won't go into that. It could also be one of the reasons why Crawler - who seem to turn up down bill to everybody, like `77's Capability Brown (remember them?) - are plumbing an already overworked vein of strident guitar-fired blues rock, but we won't go into that either.
Suffice to say that they do what's been done before with marginal relief from the style's previous tedium, and were received with polite disinterest by the crowd.
Brand X, with Phil Collins back on traps for the occasion, fared decidedly better. The warm, hazy and relaxed afternoon atmosphere worked to their advantage, and I found myself forgetting that I'd heard a handful of American bands do it just as well (this is in fact a compliment to Brand X) and just soaking it up.
Brand X, as we all know, sound like Weather Report, with some of the homogenous and stoic feel of ECM jazz mixed in. The main attractions of their music are its mood and its technical dexterity. Individually the band are all great players (especially the sweet and fluid guitarist) but what they do together relies more on virtuosity than on any corporate intentions as a band - a subtle difference between them and Weather Report.
In many ways this kind of thinking person's approach to music, be it jazz or rock or jazz-rock, has taken up the torch of progressive rock. Most people I've talked to will claim so-and-so's undeniable instrumental ability in its defence, which is fair enough, and as a criteria it's one of the reasons why Brand X cut it where others don't. But in the end it's merely an extension of the Is-Alvin-Lee-Faster-Than-Eric-Clapton syndrome, and on that level it's just as boring.
After a special appearance by a plucky streaker, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes took to the stage. They looked resplendent, if a little out of place, in their real sharp suits, and the crowd greeted them like they knew they were in for a good time. Sad to say that the Jukes didn't quite deliver.
This band is usually a better bet live than they are on record. The revamped '60s soul revue makes sense in the sweaty environment of a live gig, but just sounds like high quality nostalgia on disc. However, at an outdoor, daytime affair all the in-concert qualities are lost, and they ended up looking like a bunch of clowns wearing dumb suits.
Southside, without his shades because of the daylight, overplayed his part to the point where the impenetrable New Jersey accent came off as a big act; the stage antics of the rest of the band seemed equally contrived. Deliberate high jinks that extended the excitement about a foot beyond the stage and left the crowd as spectators on the Asbury Jukes' time-warp.
This was no fault of their own really, since they played a good set that was much the same as on their previous visit, but the environment was definitely unsympathetic. Their music demands a spirit of participation in the nostalgic exercise for full reward, and it didn't happen - as was proved by the fact that they got less of a response when they left the stage than when they came on.
Brand X went over better because the mood of their music better suited the afternoon's ambience. Curiously though, the best response thus far and the first standing ovation of the day - went to the streaker. Perhaps Roy Carr can explain why ...
AFTER YEARS OF BEING continually passed over, suddenly there's a great danger that events just might be happening a shade too quickly for Elvis Costello.
What gets 400 devotees off in the confines of the Nashville doesn't necessarily transfer to 12,000 people with a vast lily pond acting as a no-go area for all but a few skinny-dippers. It's all very well being prophetic after the event, but (despite a handsome fee) Costello would have been far better served nixing Crystal Palace until next year and first playing either the Hammersmith Odeon or the Rainbow.
Furthermore, his position in the running order - being sandwiched between two experienced outfits like the Asbury Jukes and Santana didn't help none.
Costello himself seemed prepared for any eventuality - which you certainly couldn't say about his band, The Attractions, or the guy who mixed the sound were. For most of the set, both Costello's guitar and Bruce Thomas' bass were practically inaudible, with the result that the over-abundance of Steve Manson's pipe organ and Pete Thomas' drums evoked an impression of surreal nostalgia reminiscent of The Mysterians.
From the moment Costello (garbed in tight black suit, dark blue shirt and brown shoes) lurched into "Welcome To The Workday Week", he gave the distinct impression that he was performing with repressed anger.
This was the first time that Costello had come face-to-face with a large audience, but there was to be absolutely no compromise on his behalf. His obvious ploy would have been to re-play his album and ensure a positive response. No way. Of the 14 songs he performed in quick-fire succession, only "Less Than Zero", "Red Shoes", "Miracle Man" and the closing "Mystery Dance" are available on record.
It was almost as if Costello was putting both the audience and himself to test. I'm not sure what his motives were - maybe he's masochistic - but he sure as hell went about it the hard way.
The PA certainly didn't help. As the lyrical content of Costello's material is very wordy, the impact of such newer songs as "There's No Action", "Lipstick Vogue", "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea", "Lipservice", "Radio, Radio" and the incredible "Watching The Detectives" was lost on the breeze.
Had Costello had more experience of working such a large audience he'd have pulled the gig off without too much difficulty. As it was, there seemed to be a certain degree of resistance emanating from both sides of the pond, with the result that he scooted-off to a polite trickle of applause and no encore.
On page three of the official programme, it gave a Santana line-up of Carlos Santana (guitar), Tom Coster (keyboards), Raoul Ricklow (congas / bongoes), Graham Lear (drums), Gregory Walker (vocals), David Margen (bass) and Peter Escovedo (timbales).
Turn to page nine of the very same programme and there's a missive that states: "Rather than going into detailed biographical or historical accounts of the group, SANTANA prefer to be judged on their music alone."
Who's kiddin' who? 'Cause the note then goes on to claim that Pablo Tellez is playing bass, Luther Rabb sings and Jose "Chepito" Areas handles timbales!
I dunno 'bout the rest of the guys, but Chepito wasn't within 3,000 miles of that gig.
It really doesn't matter who plays what anyway, because outfits like Santana (Lynyrd Skynyrd are another) are custom-built for large outdoor events like Crystal Palace. Designed like a B-52 bomber, they take off at full throttle, quickly gain altitude, cruise at maximum speed and then go for the flash finish, delivering their payload bang on target.
That's one analogy. At another extreme they can be likened to a premature ejaculation. Having reached an orgasmic peak so early in their performance, they then spend the next two hours going through the same motions, until the batteries need replacing.
Building their programme around the more familiar highlights from their first three albums, Carlos & Co also sprinkle their set with more recent tracks like "Let The Children Play" and a thoroughly bizarre latinised rework of The Zombies' "She's Not There".
However, long before the set reached its logical conclusion the incessant rattling of pots and pans became somewhat overpowering. Aside from "Black Magic Wornan" and an instrumental ballad (the title of which eludes me), the only respite was C. Santana's stylish ability to overlay the recurring rhythm patterns with regular forceful guitar breaks and sustained sub-sonic one-note aerobatics.
Though I face a charge of nepotism, I must confess that the best music I heard all day came much later at Ras Spencer's house-leaving knees-up.