Alternative Ulster, No. 31, 1978

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Alternative Ulster
  • 1978 No. 31



Elvis Costello

Ulster Hall, 17th March

Gavin Martin

Like a hurricane in my brain — the power, the punch, the style and the pacing, Costello joins the select pantheon of performers that includes Dylan, Iggy and Townshend. The sheer intensity of his fever pitch commitment to every note and every syllable showed without a doubt he is one of rock 'n' roll's prime time geniuses.

He enthralled a packed Ulster Hall with a set starting from a quirky feet-finding "Waiting For The End Of The World" culminating in a gripping fourth encore of that vein-bulging gem "I'm Not Angry." It was a night that ran through the gamut of emotions — the impassioned sexuality of "Little Triggers" to the anger, fear and rage of "Night Rally."

Each song a finely etched masterpiece, Elvis being the obvious focal point as you slip into synche with his every movement and the seven flavours of sweat that drip from his brow. You look around to see who the idiot dancer at the front of the hall is and you find out it's yourself — it's one of those gigs.

More peaks than your average mountain range, when he plays my faves from Model (78's best album thus far — as if you ain't guessed) I wonder about the set's pacing but dammit all the guy can play for an hour or more and still leave without playing classics like "Alison" and "No Dancing."

It's hard to pick out individual numbers but "Night Rally" is worth a mention. While the new-wave troops dream of a buckles and strap riot or deal in crass lyrical sciamachy — Adverts being a perfect example — Elvis steps to the fore bathed in a blue light, the organ drones, the guitar feedback pierces the air frightening me into awareness and then he sings “They're putting all our names in the forbidden book / I know what they're doing but I don't want to look / You think they're so dumb, you think they're so funny / But just wait till they've got you running to their night rallies.”

Quite a difference then between Elvis and his support act — the catastrophically boring Micky Jupp Band. Perhaps it was something of a shrewd move as there is obviously no hope of MJB even beginning to warm up the audience never mind blow Costello off stage (Christ, the very thought). On another sour note there is just no way the gig should have been seated — asking a crowd to sit while El and The Attractions pump out their obsessive rhythms is like trying to get an elephant to tap-dance on a pinhead.

It was in every sense a very special performance, one of those sessions when the band give that little magical touch which lit a fuse which even now burns strong in my memory. Y'see for me what the Attractions and Elvis (and remember it's the former's show just as much as the latter; let's cut all that "backing band" crap out right now) are doing is as fresh and original as anything is likely to be in 70s.

The idea of an organist, bassist and drummer holding forth on stage — as often happens when Elvis discards his guitar — is in itself original. And is it a successful combination? Is water wet? Is Colin McClelland a big drip? It renders the lethargic bleatherings of XTC totally obsolete.

Bruce, Steve and Paul's ability to grasp an understanding of Elvis's songs is far more apparent onstage than on vinyl. What they are able to achieve in future ventures holds scintillating prospects.

Each song segues into the next, the atmosphere never lets up. “Chelsea” receives a rapturous reception. It's a spine buzzer. Elvis' glazed eyeballs prowl over the audience's pyche — accusing, drawing out each word making the lyrics far more meaningful than on paper — “I don't want to check your pulse / I don't want nobody else — I don't want to go to Chelsea.” And you're just taken away by the shuddering and shaking hookline.

He's been occasionally criticised for a drab onstage visual. But I've never been so impressed by a rock 'n' roll star who makes no attempt to perform — gestures and expressions are not exaggerated preening but part and parcel of the songs: explaining and complementing.

Take that killer line from the “The Beat,” “I don't want to be your lover / I just want to be your victim.” He hangs over the mike stand, screws and contorts his face — virtually pleads you to understand.

Costello is currently delivering the goods with more root level commitment than anyone since old Bob Dylan. And, yes, I too am beginning to forget who Bob Dylan was and and I'm nowhere near 23.


Alternative Ulster, No. 31, 1978

Gavin Martin reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Friday, March 17, 1978, Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland.


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Page scan.

Photos by Terence Bowman.
1978-00-31 Alternative Ulster photo 01 tb.jpg

1978-00-31 Alternative Ulster photo 02 tb.jpg

1978-00-31 Alternative Ulster photo 03 tb.jpg
Photos by Terence Bowman.

1978-00-31 Alternative Ulster cover.jpg


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