Willy DeVille arrived with a mission, and come hell or high water he was going to carry it out. No matter that he was opening for Elvis Costello, the Englishman with all the fancy press clippings. DeVille, a confirmed New York greaser, wasn't awed.
"He shouldn't be using the name Elvis, man. There's only one Elvis ... And hey, I can dance and he can't. I've got it all over him in street moves," said DeVille, nursing a cigarette after his set. "You know, everybody from my friends to my record company says: 'Bury him. Put him away.' It seems to have become my assignment."
When the final chord had sounded at this shootout a matchup of one of the top American New Wave bands with its British counterpart it was Willy and his group, Mink DeVille, who emerged with the upper hand.
Not that Costello was blown away. He was more at ease (more eye contact with the audience; an area where Willy DeVille could stand improvement), than at his winter Paradise appearance, and he reached peaks of raw energy in blasting from "Pump It Up" to "You Belong to Me" near the end of his set.
But in the final analysis he fell short of the DeVilleans. Costello suffered in the conversion from a club to a big hall, for his quirky magnetism was less and he made no use of the larger space. His act had an undeserved anticlimax when a woman had an epileptic seizure in the front row (Costello stepped forward to see that she was helped), but he and his band, especially monotonous organist Steve Nasson, are not the rock 'n' roll saviors they have been extolled as being.
By contrast. Mink DeVille tailor their act to the concert halls. They've professionalized their lighting and increased their size and versatility by adding saxophonist David Leathers and new keyboardist George Cureau, a stabilizing force.
Willy DeVille also atoned for a desultory performance last fall at the Paradise. (He had then just returned from a rough European tour and claimed to lack the energy to roll a joint). His swampy, broken-bottle larynx sliced through a punchier set than expected (he doesn't carry the purring backup singers, the Immortals, any more) and he integrated upbeat numbers from his first album like "Gunslinger" and the slide-guitar blues of "Cadillac Walk' with kick-out tunes from his new "Return to Magenta" album, namely the Latin rock of "Steady Drivin' Man" and the explosive "Soul Twist."
His choreography was also improved: He ended "Just Your Friends" with a flamenco dance strut; "Guardian Angel" with some West Side Story finger-snaps; and "Soul Twist" with a James Brown down-on-the-knees pleading. Street moves and all, he was unbeatable.
Nick Lowe, who is Costello's producer as well as longtime sidekick to Brinsley Schwartz (now with Graham Parker), was too loud in his stint, but his teaming with rockabilly lover Dave Edmunds had many an exhilarating moment.