The choice was this: go all the way down to the Orpheum and surely part with at least 20 dollars each on a ticket for Elvis Costello, or check out the National Lampoon show for free. The choice shouldn't have been necessary. We should have already had tickets for Elvis but we're a couple of lazy shits and didn't go to the Orpheum three months ago when the concert was announced. The opportunity to see this wonderfully deranged genius, however. superseded any financial considerations and "scalp" became the day's word.
We became immediately aware of the competition when somebody approached us at the Park Street exit. Good thing we had plenty of bucks and were more than willing to bid them adieu for any seats in the house.
At 6:45 there were no tickets around. But there were plenty of people. A hundred or so Elvis-heads bumping into each other and asking for tickets that hadn't yet arrived. The National Lampoon show was definitely becoming a possibility. But there was plenty of money to be made here tonight so the tickets would surely appear soon. The tickets appeared. Instant reaction. These little pieces of paper were like steaks to a pack of hungry wolves. The salivating crowd pounced on each modern-day Shylock, as soon as he "hashed the meat."
Our tickets were held by a 17 year-old kid who was quite nervous, due to the six police officers, who were standing rive feet in back of us. Scalping tickets is not exactly legal. remember? So when the kid heard an offer of $50 for the pair he took the money and runned. He didn't know what we did: that the cops couldn't care less about ticket scalping, they were concentrating on clearing the sidestreet to the building of illegally parked cars. Steaks clenched firmly in our hands, we headed for the turnstiles.
"These things better be legitimate."
"... Aaaaaaah, we're in!"
"Now, where the hell are these seats?'
"Oh my God. 15th (adjective deleted) row!"
"Here we are living in paradise..."
The warm up band was pop. Interminable waiting. It was another 45 minutes before the band strode on stage.
The first song was a new one (this guy prolific or what?). Sounded great but the immense volume blurred the lyrics. Can't even remember the name of the song. It's tough to fully appreciate an Elvis song the first time you hear it. It must become rooted in the pleasure center and grow into your system every time you pick at a different nuance, a searing guitar lick, or another line of his undefinable poetry. Varying moods will lead to appreciation of various lyrics.
He was larger and more assured than expected. From his album covers and rare appearances on the video, one would envision a knock-kneed, peerish toe locker-type. But he was none of that.
BOOM - BOOM - BOOM - BOOM...
BOOM - BOOM - BOOM - BOOM...
I'm here in the zoo,
I can't come home cause I've grown up too soon..."
"Goon Squad." This one was rooted. We welcomed the familiar. Elvis had no cause to bitch this night. The crowd can sense his temperament. We didn't want to alienate him and have him pull one of his characteristic tantrums. He's played a couple of 45 minute shows on this tour but this crowd could never have settled for an abbreviated set.
Some words about his seldom-mentioned guitar playing: Elvis may not be Al Di Meola or Frank Zappa, (speed and genius, respectively) but his raw, emotional style, which is constrained by his poetry, give him credibility as far as rock-guitarists go. What definitive terms are there for guitarists? Dazzling, clever, masterful? These are pretty hollow terms. Elvis is kind of like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and that hero of old, John Lennon: all extraordinary songwriter who enhance their sound with potent guitar playing. But Elvis limits his guitar. He never lets it wander all by itself for too long. Of course, in concert there are the obligatory and more lengthy solos but the music serves mainly as a form for his twisted cliches and exciting bizarre insights:
"a death that's worse than late."
"... caught in a grip-like vice"
"I call you pretty fillin, cos you are a pretty villain."
Who, but Costello, would start song one, side one of his latest album Armed Forces
"Oh, I just don't know where to begin..."
His words are jewels. They must an be heard and marveled at. But they come out as machine gun bullets. His own "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Pump It Up," is the prime example. At the show, when he played this song of songs, the crowd, of course, went nuts. But there were a handful that were not on their feet dancing and clapping. At a bridge in the song, he said (asked) incredulously, "Some people are sitting down?!" He said it more surprised than annoyed. Not to indict the entire crowd, anybody that wasn't up at this stage must've been a prosthetic case. Elvis recognized the enthusiastic response of the living, non-prosthetic, audience members when he returned for two uncharacteristic encores.
"Lipstick Vogue" was the song of the night — fabulous light show. It began in total darkness, then a blinding white light emanated from behind the drummer, throwing the characters into an eerie silhouette. To climax the song. Elvis appeared alone on center stage in a red spot. Nobody expected sick theatrics from the querulous Costello.
He played close to an hour and a half. Four or five new songs: "B Movie," "Opportunity," "High Fidelity," and some others. "Watching the Detectives," "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea," "Oliver's Army," "Radio, Radio," Mystery Dance." And a hell of a lot of others but why name them all. Every Elvis song is great. That's what puts him in a league of his own, he carries no dead weight. Even Bruce Springsteen has "Wild Bill's Circus Story" and "Raining in the Streets." But Elvis can take any of his songs and make you forget about the one he just played. Can't wait for next year's model.