Well, he isn't exactly the hope for rock music in the 1980s like some have said, but British rocker Elvis Costello proved in his eagerly-awaited show at The Agora Ballroom Saturday night that he's head and shoulders above everything else that's come out of the so-called "new wave" rock movement.
That might not be considered all that great a recommendation, considering the inferior quality of most of the work that's come out of the hyped up new wave, but Costello, with his angry, acerbic lyric ability and his no-nonsense instrumental approach, has also shown himself to be one of the more interesting artists to hit the rock music scene in the last year or so.
Though all three of Costello's record albums have received better than average critical appraisals in this country (the most recent lp, Armed Forces, being hailed by some as one of the best of the year), he hasn't really broken through to the mass American record-buying audience yet.
But he's on the verge of that breakthrough, and Linda Ronstadt's recording late last year of his ballad "Alison" seems to have heightened his American music profile considerably.
The eccentric guitarist/singer, clad in a baggy gray suit and orange, open-necked shirt, and his three-man band, The Attractions, launched into their rapidly-paced hour-long regular show with a fine rendition of the catchy "Accidents Will Happen," one of Costello's better numbers.
Often running one song right into another, Costello and company raced through material from all his albums, with an emphasis on songs from Armed Forces such as "Oliver's Army," "Green Shirt" and "Two Little Hitlers," but also including older crowd favorites like "Mystery Dance," "Watching The Detectives" and the biting "Radio, Radio," which criticizes the kind of rock music which gets AM radio airplay while these songs don't.
The bespectacled Costello looked like a cross between Woody Allen and a demented Buddy Holly as he grimaced and snarled (sometimes breaking into little knock-kneed sort of dance) while shouting his vocals into the microphone.
Musically, Costello and The Attractions churned out a basic, hard-edged rock 'n' roll which owed numerous guitar licks and organ passages to the British Invasion music of the mid 1960s.
Unfortunately, though Costello's husky singing voice (sounding a little like an angry Gerry Marsden of the old group Gerry and The Pacemakers) was brimming with all the passion his songs require, the instrumental backing was so loud that the vocals were often drowned out, making it hard to discern the lyrics.
Not that it seemed to matter, however, as the crowd bobbed up and down and cheered lustily after each number. They were rewarded in the end when Costello, who has been known to refuse to perform encores, returned to the stage twice to play more, though he neglected to include his best song, "Alison."
But at least he left his audience wanting more — a healthy sign for his career.