The concert Sunday night at Music Hall featuring Elvis Costello and the Attractions and opening act Squeeze demonstrates the new pop sensibility coming out of England a la the Police and Rockpile. Often erroneously referred to as punk or new wave, Elvis' cynicism and return to a basic rock and roll sound draws admirers from that crowd, yet his lack of a political stance nor any direct call to action separates him from acknowledged new wave groups such as the Clash, the Sex Pistols or the Gang of Four.
Squeeze began their set with "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)," one of their best known songs from the last album Argybargy. The sound was crisper on the live songs than on the album, which often got gobbed down in the production. Lead vocalist Glenn Tilbrook gives the songs a pop feeling typical of many top 40 bands while the gravelly vocals of Chris Difford and instrumental harmonies added an unsettling edge to the songs which lift them up a notch from such bands.
They have an album coming out in a month with new keyboard player Paul Carrack, formerly of the British group Ace, and he was permitted to sing that group's biggest hit "How Long," which Squeeze played competently.
For their own material, the band performed very tightly and attempted to get the audience on its feet, but the security and logistics of seating of the Music Hall does not make for a great dance floor. The band declined to do an encore possibly due to frustration with an unresponsive audience, but in our opinion it was a very good response for an unknown opening act.
Elvis opened his set with a garbled version of "Just a Memory," a soft ballad backed by only keyboards that appeared on his singles compilation album Taking Liberties.
The formerly scrawny Elvis, who made such songs as "Watching the Detectives," an exercise in paranoia with his spasmodic gesturing, has become a far
more sedate performer. The exclusion of material from his earliest album My Aim is True may be an acknowledgement that his new found stature no longer fits his early image.
The band played most enthusiastically the songs from the last album Get Happy, which, while not his best-selling album, was well received critically. Selections from the forthcoming album Trust gave no indication that Elvis was searching for any new posture or direction, as demonstrated by the song "Clubland," introduced as a new number but falling easily within the range of previous material.
As reputed from their previous performances, the band played accelerated, at times rushed, versions of their upbeat numbers. This made the transitions from the faster to slower songs, often without a break in between, more jarring and created tension in the ballad material.
The band returned twice, the second time after the lights had gone up and the taped music had started, to play a rousing version of "Pump it Up," but left the audience wanting more to follow.