In 1976, English computer programmer Declan MacManus picked the stage name Elvis Costello as a joke.
Less than a year later, the original Elvis was dead, and the new one, Costello, was being heralded as a leader in rock's new wave.
He was angry at the world, and his shows were super-amplified exorcisms for Costello as he seemed to pull all his frustrations from within and hurl them through his songs.
Poised on the brink of stardom, an album near the top of the charts, two years ago Costello outraged his fans by charging top dollar for seats and giving a show barely more than a half-hour long.
Three months later later he was in hot water after getting drunk and insulting black American musicians (totally out of character for a man who had performed at Rock Against Racism benefit concerts in England).
He went into seclusion, offering more albums, letting Linda Ronstadt record his songs, appearing in a film called Americathon and little else, until last January 1981 when be went into his first U.S. tour in two years.
He still carries a chip on his shoulder, but the 1981-model Elvis Costello is a warmer, friendlier rocker.
He also performed 20 songs in an hour with nary a beat missed from the end of one piece to the next. He followed them with five encore numbers, including a powerful rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson's blues "Help Me," a rave-up version of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" sandwiched into the middle of "Watching the Detectives," and a healthy dose of new tunes from his next album due to hit the record stores this month.
There was more than a bit of anticipation in the audience. In those two years, rock had turned completely around. New wave, disco and just about every other style has been integrated into mainstream pop. Most of the new rock bands have disappeared.
Costello demonstrated that he and his band, the Attractions, are still at the forefront of rock. The new songs differ little from the style of the past material. There is a bit more country flavor in some, an abundance of Booker T. and the MG's instrumental riffs worked into several others, especially "Temptation."
But the oldies and the new tunes blend together as a cohesive whole, from "You'll Never Be A Man" to "Black and White World" to "Accidents Will Happen" and Clubland."
His band remains unchanged from its 1977 hegining: &Mee Thomas on bass, drummer Pete Thomas and combo organ player Steve Nasson (until this tour, he had used the stage name Steve Naive).
Using political, social and personal experiences as backdrops for his lyrics, Costello the man is still an original and important rock artist.
Five years ago, Costello left his job to make a country single in the tradition of his idol George Jones. After being rejected by the major labels, he got a contract with the fledgling Stiff Records.
Through constant touring and a series of excellent albums, Costello went from an unknown entity to a top 10 artist.