UPPER DARBY, PA. — He's gawky and gangly, a spindly sort of man with awkward movements who pounds his guitar while standing pigeon-toed and pained at center stage. But he is a hell of a songwriter and a forceful singer with a fascinating, arousing appeal about him.
Elvis Costello has been riding the very crest of the purported "new wave" in rock music. In the middle of an extended American tour to support his third album, Armed Forces, England's hottest export rushed the Tower Theater here this weekend to put on two sold-out, positively scintillating concerts. The demand to see Costello is finally catching up to the reputation he's acquired in a career that spans only about two years and three albums.
Saturday night's concert was a masterpiece. Costello, backed by The Attractions, his bass/drum/keyboard aligned band, quickly walked on stage, unannounced, smiled for the first and almost last time of the evening and proceeded to snarl and growl through an hour of non-stop, intense rock and roll.
Lest you get the wrong impression, let me say that the anger and fury that the man projects is not hostile or offensive. Rather, it is and was more a blaze of pent up frustrations. Much of his music, tunes like "Blame It On Cain," "Less Than Zero," and "This Year's Girl," deal with youthful feelings of persecution, wronged love or optionlessness. These are some of the same ideas/ sensations that rumbled through '50s rock and roll and are (and perhaps will stay) the battlegrounds of the new wave.
The crowd was forever jumping to its feet at a song's end as most fans seemed very caught up and attentive to everything Elvis did. This isn't Elvis-the-Pelvis, remember, but Costello does strike a certain stance, in the expanded connotation of the term.
Instrumentally, Saturday's show was also a clear-cut delight. Power drumming, rumbling bass play and some very imaginative keyboard work sparkled throughout. Costello also showed that he is, indeed, a fine straightforward lead guitarist. There were three encores Saturday night. They were deserved... and they were almost not enough.