Ottawa and Elvis Costello really don't deserve each other.
Take as many hip, middle-class, post-adolescent, thin tie wearers as you can and put them in an oversized sauna, which makes them even more selfish and complacent than usual. Add a bitchy English tomcat who doesn't care much for North America. The cat digs his claws in, but just can't get a grip on the syrupy-sweet bodies.
Costello swore after last year's American tour he'd never play in the U.S. again, and this year he's decided to tour Canada.
Why he feels were any different from our southern cousins is an unanswered question — he seldom, if ever, gives interviews.
However, this summer he talked to a Gig magazine writer. Costello, aka Declan McManus, hates to talk about his past or musical influences. But some facts do surface.
Before his first recording contract in 1976 he worked as a computer operator, although he's been writing songs for almost ten years.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's pointless talking about the past. Fuck it. I'd just rather talk about the future."
He's 23 years old, and his first album, My Aim is True, was released when he was 21.
That first album created quite a stir — here was a completely unknown and untalkative artist with an album full of classic rock and roll songs, and some of the decade's fiercely cynical and painfully honest lyrics.
Costello has said he feels only two emotions — vengeance and guilt. The intensity with which he expresses them testifies to his critical and commercial success.
His second album, This Year's Model, was released early this year, and it's even more intense than the first.
His thoughts on his music: "Music has to get to people. In the heart. In the head. I don't care where as long as it fucking gets them."
The crowd at the Algonquin College gymnasium Sunday night got it where the sun don't shine.
The atmosphere was similar to any North American pop concert. Too many people packed like anchovies into a too-small, too-hot environment, all there for another sleazy fix of rock and roll.
But they were there to see a man who is renowned for his bitterness and disgust toward almost everything, including them.
The people on the gym floor had the worst of it. The crowd remained seated through the Wives' set, but stood up as soon as Costello and the Attractions took the stage. For the first two songs, "Mystery Dance" and "Radio Radio," all that could be seen above the mass of heads was a set of black horn-rimmed glasses on a leering face.
During the third song the crowd finally sat down for awhile, and the band was revealed as it broke into a slow ballad. Costello has three backup artists on bass, drums; and Vox organ, a powerful combination of musicians.
Costello is a craftsman at keeping in touch, keeping songs short and concise. When he did extend a song, as in "Old Chelsea," he provided dynamic tempo changes and short guitar breaks, knifing across the crowd like a flame thrower.
His set was well-planned, with a few slow love songs placed at intervals in the hard-driving performance.
There were few musical disappointments, although a song from the first album, "Watching the Detectives," was slaughtered. It's a reggae tune, with a primal introductory base line that sends shivers when heard on the album. But the song's high-contrast format was neglected in the live version, swept away by the band's urgency. Costello saved it from total loss with some shocking vocal breaks, but its force was still hopelessly watered down.
Costello's viciousness manifested itself throughout the concert. Once, after a particularly successful piece of guitar work, he received an excited reaction from the crowd. He gave a long, assuming smirk, as if to assert his self-ingratiating, demonic stance.
"This Year's Girl," a song which takes a deep stab at Farrah Fawcett-style feminine mystique, was introduced as a song for "all the girls in the audience who came with their boyfriends, and especially for the girls who didn't come with their boyfriends."
Near the end of the 75-minute performance, Costello gestured the crowd to rise and performed a hard-rocking song with a chorus he practically spit out: "What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?"
His gesture to the crowd was unkind. For the rest of the concert those on the floor saw only Mr. C's face.
Although the concert was short, Costello did more in one hour than Rush could do in three days
But he knew we were spoiled brats, and ended by teasing us with "Pump it Up," a song encouraging physical arousal.
Then came the statutory wait for the encore. Costello did not want to do one, but knew how much a grotesquely ingrained ritual it is on this continent. Stripped of any affection for performers, encores have become another method of providing satisfaction for the greedy crowd. Costello took advantage of this to provide the show's most caustic element.
After the clapping and usual five minute wait, Costello and his band emerged to the crowd's pressured glee.
He sardonically bleated, "surprise, surprise", and proceeded with an irritatingly-bad version of "Miracle Man," from his first album. The band was contrivedly off-tempo and Costello purposely out of time with the already-pitiful beat.
Costello introduced the Attractions, finished the song and left. Most of the crowd did not feel this last attempt's sting.
He was choking on the all-too meaningful lyrics:
Baby's got to have the things she wants
You know she's got to have the things she loves,
And I'm doing everything just trying to please her,
Even crawlin' around on all fours,
I thought by now it was gonna be easy,
But she still seems to want some more...
Ironically, his Canadian stint is called the "Wake Up Canada" tour.
Costello has found we're in a far deeper sleep than even he'd dreamed.