Backhill, April 1987

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Elvis Costello

Royal Albert Hall

Ludi Strambella

Conventional concert reviews tend to analyse and eulogise, report and retort, reveal and revile. They are also up to date. Never one for conformity, Ludi brings you the alternative review: comparison and impression.

I recently went to see live performances by Status Quo, Eurythmics and Elvis Costello. The passing of a few weeks has weathered my recollections, smoothed the edges ... but the overall impression remains, especially as I compare them. First the venues: Quo played at the most coveted rock auditorium of all time, the Hammersmith Odeon. You can get enough people in here to create a marvellously electric atmosphere but the place is not so large as to create acoustic or visual problems. Dave and Annie on the other hand were at the Wembley Arena which is fine if you're sitting round the edges and watching something going on in the middle ("Horse of the Year Show") but is not at all suited to a stage at one end. Luckily our seats (thanks for the tickets, Bethan) were in row 13 in the well of the arena itself — about the only part of the place where both sound and vision had been adequately catered for. Elsewhere, of course the acoustics make it sound like the swimming pool it one was. Elvis was at the Royal Albert Hall, a pretty magnificent place by all accounts ... but. as somewhere for E.C. to exhibit his angered and tortured soul? Not really. We had one of the lower tier boxes and the gentileness of it all was a little inhibiting. Venue: the Quo have it.

What about content? Well, Quo played a predictable collection of their past glories, plus "In The Army Now" and "Dreaming." That is not to say that it wasn't entertaining, because here you don't need to analyse or agonise — just dance! Everyone knew the words to all the songs, every twiddly musical bit, every nuance. This does not make for boredom but for comfort ... like that slightly ragged jacket which fits just so. Eurythmics' pop/ rock/soul pastiches leave little to be desired, each one a perfectly proportioned musical package: hits and fillers all stacked neatly in a row. Elvis the Enigma, trotted out literally dozens of his extraordinary songs, the pendulum of emotion swinging wildly in all directions, covering an enourmous range of ground. Content: can't choose between them.

There was a subtle difference in the way each act was presented, too. For Quo the aim was to get everyone happy — they wanted oldies so that was what they'd get. The line up was of course, a little different to when they "retired" 3 years ago, but what the heck, Rossi still grinned like a naughty boy, Parfitt still swaggered and staggered rhythm-a-chugging. What can a guitar band do but produce good time music for a good time audience. Sure the Stewart/Lennox goal is to have a good time, but there's just that hint of danger, just a suggestion of sleaze. And as for their band — what a bunch of extroverts! Jimmy Zavalla (harp) played a captivating series of solos on a marvellous rendition of "Missionary Man" and on "Who's That Girl?" D + A played acoustic guitar and solo vox (respectively) in a performance which had the audience eating out of their leather gloved hands. "Miracle of Love," though, was just too twee and restrained.

Now, Costello, on the other hand, knows exactly what makes a love song tick. His "I Want You" was undescribably unique, he played it personally for each and every member of his transifxed audience. Suddenly the Albert Hall a very small place. Not just this, but the variety too: Costello played an extended set with the Attractions, then a shorter acoustic set with just him on guitar, then we had the Attractions back to play The Fabulous Spinning Songbook where the songs were chosen by members of the audience turning a huge wheel, and finally a series of encores finishing with an absolutely thunderous version of "Poor Napoleon" played in total darkness. What a performer! Yes. Costello took the presentation stakes by a nose.

So which was the best concert? Well, they were all good in their own way but perhaps the answer lies in the audiences — for sure they all enjoyed each performance (they all paid to get in!) but I noticed an extraordinary range of ages and types at the Status Quo bash: young and old, crazy ones and normal ones, all remarkably tame, though. The Yuppies were in evidence at Wembley, yards of grey, overcoat cloth and gold bangles everywhere presided over by the Queen yuppie herself — no, I mean Princess Di, not Annie Lennox.

I couldn't see the Costello audience — there was no one else there but him and me.


Backhill, April 1987

Ludi Strambella reviews three recent concerts, including Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Thursday, January 22, 1987, Royal Albert Hall, London, England.


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Page scans.

1987-04-00 Backhill cover.jpg


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