Midnight at the Old Waldorf. Send your camel to bed. There's no room for it here, because the proprietor has greedily sold plenty of tickets over the joint's practical capacity. This isn't the first time, either.
With the advent of new blood in rock 'n' roll, the Old Waldorf has become a pivotal local showcase for developing artists. Record companies are attracted to the facility. It's an intimate venue and liquor is served. Thanks to a sterile, functional decor, the place feels like a cafeteria. Bland surroundings that make the worst of entertainers more interesting by comparison. When the best rising acts are booked (Tom Petty, Mink DeVille, AC/DC, etc.), it isn't unusual to find a surplus of eager patrons willing to be crammed together beyond comfort and capacity for the show.
Ravel's Bolero unfurls over the Waldorf PA system. Three hours have elapsed since the first of two opening acts attempted to placate Iggy Pop's adoring sardines. The crowd is hot and restless. They've endured to witness the spectacle. Bystanders waiting for an accident.
Most of them never saw the outcast in his heyday. Iggy Stooge, born James Osterberg, shredding his chest with broken glass. Or drooling and thrashing around on stage. Or humping some ghoul-friend in the audience to a brutal James Williamson guitar solo. He's a Stooge no longer, but the sardines don't care. They're ready for action and the reborn Iggy Pop, punk antecedent and elder statesman. Bolero is stoking the flame.
"Where are you, goddammit? Iggy!!" "We love you, Jimmy, you muthah-fuck-ah!" Shouts of "Bring on the Idiot!" Tension like at a bullfight before the matadors are introduced. (That effect courtesy of Ravel.) Suddenly, the music crashes to a close.
From the darkness, a voice growls, "Is anybody bombed out there?" The band chums up, the spotlight stabs a moving figure and the Ig appears; bull, not matador. He has a black plume for a tail, trailing him while he pirouettes. He sings songs from his two latest RCA albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life, both produced and co-written by David Bowie, Iggy's friend and recent collaborator. The repertoire touches on past dementia, from "Raw Power" to the encore, "I Wanna Be Your Dog." No bull. Loud, gut-wrenching rock.
Bowie isn't present on this tour and the band, with the Sales Brothers on bass and drums (plus a couple of other nondescript sidemen), isn't as sharp as on record. It's down to Iggy and he comes through like a champ. Regretfully for the gore-lusting voyeurs, he doesn't take any risks, in contrast to the Stooge of yore.
Leaning forward, cajoling, taunting, Iggy works the room with professional ease. Between songs, he whispers to a lad at ringside who has a bandaged nose. They laugh. Iggy removes his shirt in order to strut bare-chested across the stage. During "Lust For Life," which could be his answer to the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love," he collapses on the floor, rolling and groaning; a satyr in heat.
Wearing an army helmet for "Fall In Love With Me," he becomes the drunken soldier-of-fortune on leave. He breaks apart a chair and sticks his head through the remains. Into the stocks as punishment. The roadies drag him on stage in a bag and he kicks his way out. Totally drained, Iggy chews on the microphone cord and intones the lyrics to "Nightclubbing" in German. He's a lost little boy, then a robot and, concluding the set with "Raw Power," an utter maniac.
Earning an encore, the sardines pound on tables and clap 'til their fins hurt. "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is all that the title implies. Animal magnetism, but no antics beyond the garden-variety punkoid schtick employed by the Dead Boys'dynamic neo-Stooge, Stiv Bators. When their supplicant disappears undamaged, the disappointed mob disperses, leaving spilled drinks and overturned seats in their wake. A living legend shouldn't keep his admirers waiting for three hours, unless he's able to live up to his legend
Exactly four nights later, I'm back at the Waldorf. This time, the occasion is the initial American gig for a guy who can honestly call himself the next Elvis. Really. Elvis Costello is one of the pop singers who emerged last year from the Stiff Records stable. He made his debut on The Stiff Sampler, a British import from the small independent label that also featured cuts by Nick Lowe, the Tyla Gang, Graham Parker & the Rumour, Dave Edmunds and Wreckless Eric. Currently, Elvis is signed to Columbia Records in the U.S., and his first Stiff album has just been released in this country.
My Aim Is True tracks the same on Columbia as it did on Stiff, except for the addition of a sneering reggae-styled tune, "Watching The Detectives." Playing guitar in front of the Attractions, a three-piece group that includes unknowns Steve Mason on keyboards, Bruce Thomas on bass and Pete Thomas on drums, Elvis performs most of the songs from the album and quite a few potent numbers that have not been recorded. The Attractions recall the English Invasion of the Sixties and groups such as the Animals, Manfred Mann and the Zombies. Simultaneously, the young singer in horn-rims, gray suit and tie literally drives the audience to frenzy.
They recognize his material from FM airplay. (Elvis has been a favorite of local jocks like KSAN's astute rocker, Richard Gossett, since The Stiff Sampler.) "Less Than Zero," a droll song about alienation, and "Alison," a love ballad which is the single from My Aim Is True, are acknowledged by cheers. Thankfully, the people in attendance are not as numerous as those who jammed the house for Iggy. The fire marshal had dropped in on one of Iggy's shows over the weekend, so I suppose the proprietor decided to temper his avarice.
For a wimpy-looking character, Elvis can be mighty vitriolic. His biting lyrics are probably born out of his resemblance to famous dorks like Wally Cox or Freddie from Freddie and the Dreamers, rather than standard rock 'n' roll sex symbols like Presley and Jagger. Or even Buddy Holly, who wore glasses, too, but was a lot more congenial. In any case, Costello's bitterness and anger have the intensity of early Dylan, and his voice has the R&B shadings of that other angry young Englishman, Graham Parker.
If we surmise from torn fabric, safety pins and cigarette burns that ugliness is beauty in fashion today, and if talent still counts, then Elvis Costello is a winner. The same cannot be said for his (and Graham Parker's) manager, Jake Riviera, downing double-shots backstage after the first set. Riviera, who is to be respected for masterminding Stiff Records, is dressed like a greasy teddy boy on the town. Maybe he thinks he's Colonel Tom Parker. With a full glass of booze in his hand, he decides to act the part. He screams about the sacrifices he's made for Elvis and the worthlessness of American media, demanding the removal of certain press representatives from the backstage area, including yours truly.
Strangely enough, all of those that Jake chooses for expulsion are taller than he is. And the night before, he and Elvis had enjoyed a performance by Randy Newman at the Berkeley Community Theater. Of course, Mr. Newman sang his newest satirical tract, "Short People," poking fun at random bigotry. Then again, Randy's probably right about you little bastards, Jake.