Review of concert from 1987-01-23: London, Royal Albert Hall
NME, 1987-01-31, p41
- Len Brown
Napolean Dynamite and the whirling wheel of hits
ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE ATTRACTIONS
ROYAL ALBERT HALL
STEVEN THE computer programmer is in his element. In black and white stripes with red kipper tie, he's sweating, shaking and singing all the words to all the songs (even the brand new ones). When he finally gets his "I Spun The Spectacular Spinning Songbook" T-shirt there's no stopping him. It matters not that he's a goon for onstage, at first glance, there appears to be four prime specimens of the species. And the great thing for Steven and his ilk is that the Attractions - crushed red velvet flares, dodgy glasses, Cope mops, epaulettes - have eternally put goons on the map, endowing even computer programmers with the semblance of humanity.
While those with faces to fit cloth-eared A&R men's schemes increasingly fail to come up with the goods, we're forced to delve deeper into the archives for something touched with sincerity. Obviously honesty alone doesn't pay these days: lyricists are strangled in favour of a beat and celluloid sex. Elvis Costello - who always reminds me of Captain Klutz's arch-enemy Cissyman - remains the rare exception. Had the video age begun 10 years ago one wonders whether The Man With The Musical Glasses would be where he is today - taking over the Albert for two hours. (How the hell did we tolerate those 20 minute JAMC sets?)
Even when the wealth of early hits paraded here - 'Red Shoes', 'Watching The Detectives', 'Pump It Up' . . . - begins to wash over us and sound similar after instant recognition, the man's gem-packed poetry shines through. Over the evening he seems to chart every put-down and personal trauma he's experienced and, far from presenting the stock rock face of strength and success, he exposes all his weaknesses (and ours). He gives the new single 'Blue Chair' minimal plugging, putting more emotional power into the likes of 'I Wanna Be Loved' and 'Blood And Chocolate'. And this is really only the beginning.
Too briefly the Attractions quit the stage, leaving Elvis to perform a moving string of acoustic songs; a plaintive 'Shipbuilding', a snatch of 'Reet Petite' and 'Jackie Wilson Said', and a perfect blend of 'New Amsterdam' with 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away'. Of course, it's precisely because Costello doesn't hide his love away that we're all here tonight.
Then it's the Spinning Songbook and Steve the computer programmer's big chance. He can't believe it, he's bowled over by it. He shakes the hand of the great man, then - guided by the 'tache and toupee' of Mr Saviour Valentine - he climbs the golden staircase of song and gives the big wheel a twirl. Meanwhile Dynamite, with Terry Lawless towel draped over one shoulder, MCs the proceedings like a wrestling ref. It's all so beautifully tacky and self-deprecating and yet the chosen songs - 'Alison', 'Lip Service', 'The Beat', 'Everyday I Write The Book' . . . - are as crisp and fresh as ever.
It's hard to fathom out exactly how he manages it, how he unites pop, with music hall with ITV game show, and gets away with it. His continued strength depends on other projects, on the ability to explore new areas of music, to make old songs his own, to inspire new material. It'll never be enough for him (or us) to churn out the oldies or simply to go through the motions; but tonight he spirit of the past and the poetic power of Costello's present made this one of the great goon shows.