Review of concert from 1980-05-05: with Attractions & Martin Belmont; Paris, Le Bataclan
- Frazer Clarke
Cleave it out, Elvis!
Elvis Costello And The Attractions
LINCOLN, Yeovil, Paris, Lyon: from England's backwaters to the conurbations of France the Costello tour roars on, nightly refuelled by the energy it inspires.
En route, keyboard player Steve Naive has had to pull out, the victim of a car crash. His replacement is a surprise, Martin Belmont, guitarist with The Rumour. The resultant twin-guitar based sound is a less sophisticated but funkier mix than before; James Brown's rough diamonds rather than the polished pearls of Smokey Robinson.
It's certainly a sound suited to tonight's venue. Le Bataclan is a Parisian Marquee, cramped, seatless and sweaty with a strong reputation as France's home of blues and soul. As if in acknowledgement, The Attractions play Sonny Boy Williamson's 'Help Me', a slow-burning, bubbling blues stew, with more than a taste of 'Green Onions' thrown in.
The song is one of a half dozen non-originals performed, which includes the other Elvis' 'Little Sister', a lollipop already licked by Ry Cooder and now crunched and swallowed by The Attractions. Cooder stressed the seductive qualities in the number; Costello is out for retribution.
Bitter resentment remains the stock-in-trade of Costello the songwriter, in spite of the almost "born again" joy of Costello the man. He is still passion's slave, the difference being that no longer does "everybody have to feel his pain." One can only assume that his Muse is treating him more kindly these days.
The change in image is absolute, from the profuse thanks and garrulous stage chat (his accent is pure Liverpudlian) to the ecstatic squirming as Elvis repeats the final line of 'Secondary Modern'. Belmont's resonant guitar flourishes fade away with the song.
Generally, the band seem happiest pelting through the set's fastest numbers.
'Mystery Dance' and 'Waiting For The End Of The World' (appropriately introduced as "a message from The Ayatollah") are revived with a double helping of brio and a mini-Niagara pours constantly from Costello's chin.
It's during the atmospheric 'Lipstick Vogue' and 'Watching The Detectives' that Naive is most missed. Without the spooky hyphens provided by his organ, the central build-up of tension in 'Lipstick Vogue' seems forced, with little connection with the rest of the tune.
Visually, Martin Belmont seems out of place, and not just because he's inches taller than either Costello or Bruce Thomas. He's thickset and often wanders into Elvis' mid-stage territory, whereas the lightweight Naive's role was more peripheral, cordoned off by a barrier of keyboards. Naive's joyous leaps are replaced by Belmont's guitar-hero grimaces.
The guitarist is obviously accustomed to playing in a more egalitarian organization, while Thomases Bruce and Pete seem content to be subordinate sidemen. (Pete sits calmly behind his drums, occasionally mouthing the lyrics, with a look so phlegmatic that you'd think his trousers would have to be on fire before he'd be disturbed.)
But this is more than just a physical attraction, and it's churlish to belittle Belmont's success in fitting quite neatly into the band's sound - as well as adding a new dimension of his own - at short notice.
The different approach is welcome in itself, and is accentuated in view of the precise, clipped sound which dominates 'Get Happy!!' The contrast in guitar styles highlighted in '(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea' is a treat. Costello deals with solos the way a cleaver deals with meat, blitzing through to the bone. Belmont's style is more sustained and earthier, here complementing, there duelling with the man in the middle.
Costello's voice is strained, it could do with oiling, but no one seems to notice and the cheers are raucous and constant. Whatever happened to Paris's aloof reserve?