About six months ago a computer operator from Liverpool released a series of singles in Great Britain, followed by an album release in both Great Britain and the United States. The album and singles soared to number one in England, but for the first couple of months after their release in the United States, Elvis Costello was nothing more than a curiosity.
Then Columbia Records started the big push. Actually, it was unneeded for Costello's music stood up on its own. It was radical rock and roll, the lyrics intriguing, the music extremely listenable. In any case, the album started selling well enough to warrant a tour of the U.S. Throughout the tour Costello has shunned interviews, etc. except for a long-to-be remembered appearance on Saturday Night Live where he stopped in the middle of one song and decided he wanted to do a different one.
Which brings us to last Saturday night at Page Hall. Costello sold fast; University Concert Board had a hit on its hands. The concert had sold-out almost two weeks in advance. Tickets were being easily scalped at $5 a head.
The audience was psyched. Elvis doing his sound check (which contained new material!) made it a certainty that an intriguing show was imminent. Intriguing turned out to be a weak word for what the audience heard and saw.
UCB was forced to confiscate all cameras and tape machines at the door due to Costello's action in Brockport where he ended his performance early after being upset by someone's camera flash.
From the beginning Costello's road crew seemed snotty. They seemed to be content at the fact that the sound would be as deafening as the massive speakers could crank out. UCB handed a few lucky by-standers cotton.
Will Alexander and the Boom Boom band opened the show. Their debut album is basic rock; not bad, but certainly nothing special. And so went their performance. They opened the show with "Home Is." Willie's on-stage movements were animated and they were further enhanced by his unique way of showing the audience he could sing with gum in his mouth. During "Slippin and Slidin" and "Everybody Knows," Willie was plagued by mike problems. For some reason this also happened to the Talking Heads when they appeared at Page Hall. Through it all Willie kept rocking. When a member of the audience called out "Cat Stevens!," Willie replied "Cat Stevens? Is he here tonight? Stand up Cat — Gimme a break man."
Following several swigs from a handy bottle, Willie stripped to a revealing black silk t-shirt to sing "You've Lost That Lovin Feelin." The Righteous Brothers have no competition. "Radio Heart" and "Hair" featured driving guitar solos, but they were not enough to make up for the overall mediocrity of Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band's performance.
Following the intermission, a skinny man in a grey suit a thin tie with red shoes appeared on stage and wasted no time in playing some of the most intense rock and roll seen by area crowds in a long time.
Elvis Costello opened the show with what was best called a medley of songs from My Aim Is True. It featured "Mystery Dance," "Waiting for the End of the World," and "Less Than Zero." Throughout Costello had no stage presence whatsoever. If anything, he looked pained. But the music caught me almost as much as the last time I saw Bruce Springstein. Musically Costello is something special.
He introduced two songs next. The first, "Lip Service," was a bitter tale of unrequited love (a trend in all of his songs). The second "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" was superb. Elvis's back-up band (which he never introduced) was excellent. The organist played an instrument that was reminiscent of Eric Burden and the Animals. It added the needed touch to the basic 60's rock style that Costello emulates so well.
Costello took off his guitar and peered through his Poindexter-type glasses into the audience. He then played a revved-up, dynamite version of "Red Shoes." The audience was into this man. He rewarded them with good music and assault.
Someone in the audience called Costello an "asshole," another told him to "Go back to England" Elvis replied with "Fuck off, come down here and say that." In any case, from here on in his stage attitude changed. Two more new songs, "Hand in Hand" (dedicated to "all you rich Americans with cars") and " See Your Friends" continued Costello's well-known bitterness about love. The lyrics: "I don't want to be your lover, I just want to be your victim."
Costello then segued into "Watching the Detectives," easily the highlight of the show. The version was much fuller and ex-more powerful than that of the album. The song is a put down of television that Costello pounded out with every bit of strength that he had. When the audience began to clap along Costello yelled, "No use in keeping time with us, we can lose you."
Costello then asked the audience to stand up. They obliged. He launched into another new rocker called "Pep It Up" Throughout the song the UCB people asked the audience to please refrain from standing. This, combined with several flashcubes in the audience disturbed Costello. His obnoxious stage attitude turned into anger, and with a "Good night," he stormed off stage after an extremely short 40 minute show. He refused to do an encore, much to the distress of the audience.
The lights went on and the audience left. The reigning opinion was that the music was of the highest calibre, but why not an encore? It seems, according to several sources, that Costello's band and crew did not like the treatment he received. Shortly after the concert, UCB Treasurer Evan Gold was asked by Costello's road manager how he liked the concert. Gold said he enjoyed it and, according to Gold, he proceeded to walk away. The road manager then reportedly grabbed him, tore his shirt, and took a swing at him. Gold blocked the swing, and the road manager tried to kick him in a strategic place. Gold got away. But the road manager caused further havoc backstage by calling other UCB workers "dirty Jews" and "niggers."
None of this affected the music; it was the best, though it was much too short. As far as Costello and his crew's attitude, it was at the very least appalling. If he expects to have any sort of future in the rock and roll business he better get his shit together. Thanks should go to Concert Board for the opportunity to see a unique performer; they really suffered through this show. May the music in the future be of the same high calibre without the grief.