Orlando's Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, a longtime host to the glittering galas of the chi chi theatre crowd, was host to something completely different Sunday night as Elvis Costello and The Attractions, and opening act Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit swooped into Central Florida on their World Tour '84.
It's probably too much to say that the staid Bob Carr will never be the same, but let us do say that we never saw anyone boogieing in the aisles there to Carol Channing singing "Hello, Dolly!"
With Elvis Costello, of course, it was quite the contrary.
The literate enfant terrible from Great Britain had the sell-out crowd on its feet from his opening number "Pump It Up," a shot of pure rock 'n' roll adrenaline, to his last, a stripped-down, souped-up cover of Van McCoy's "Gettin' Mighty Crowded."
But then Costello always has had that sort of hold on his fans.
Costello, for those out of the know, was one of the first "new wave" rock musicians to make more than a ripple in America in the late 70s; his first album was marked with the logo "Elvis Is King."
His songs were angry and true and articulate. Which is what set him apart from the rest of the gang that couldn't see straight. He sang about fascism, emotional and political, and relationships and realities and what could be. The words wrapped around the music, insinuations becoming allegations, no wasted time, little wasted sentiment; sometimes he was wryly funny in a cynical way. His basic and loud rock 'n' roll tunes drove his points home.
Lest anyone think he was an unregenerate pessimist, he sang, "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding."
On first sexual encounter: "She thought that I knew and I thought that she knew... why don't you tell me about the mystery dance?"
On relationships: "Two little Hitlers who fight it out until one little Hitler does the other one's will."
He didn't speak to his audiences. He didn't speak to the press. Well, yes he did. But only through his music.
Would Elvis ever be happy? He put out an LP filled with upbeat Motown-ish tunes called Get Happy. He confounded everyone by doing an all-country album, Almost Blue, produced by Nashville star-maker Billy Sherrill.
And with his rock, he crooned, he shouted, he lashed out and he looked into the human heart, with eyes framed by Poindexterish eyeglasses that look more at home on a computer programmer, which he used to be. Indeed, his entire band looks like the cast for Revenge of the Nerds. So much for appearances: they're boffo rockers.
All of this stuff came into play Sunday night.
After a walloping one-hour set by Nick Lowe — who, as a staunch believer in the tenet that the significance of pop music is its fun, is all the playful things Elvis Costello is not — a tape of Patsy Cline music filled the auditorium before the headliner bounded onto a barren stage and pounded out the world according to Elvis Costello; he wore an all-black suit and fire-engine red shoes.
The secret to Costello is in the red shoes; he is, in fact, a man who sings about the worst but wishes for the best.
Costello sang seven songs before he acknowledged his audience. Before he said anything, he stalked to the front of the stage and stared at the thousands staring at him. Not a blink. Not a crack of a smile. Not a nod. And then, he said "good evening" as he and The Attractions launched into "I Hope You're Happy Now."
The show was some things old, some things new, nothing borrowed, some things blue. And its extreme loudness was part of the message.
Costello played to an always appreciative audience, mostly white, mostly young, many dressed to the teeth in both bizarre and acceptable fashion.
Some of them, though, still missed Costello's point of being who you are and not imposing your will on another. A case in point had to do with clothes. In the women's restroom, Shorts Woman was needling Fish-Net Woman about her extravagant dress: miniskirt, mid-calf boots, fish net stockings, fish net blouse and teased hairdo.
"Really," snorted Shorts Woman, "all this for Elvis? For Flock of Seagulls, maybe. But for Elvis?"
"Some of us," harrumphed Fish-Net Woman as she began the long, lonely walk to the door with all eyes now upon her, "have good taste no matter where we go or who we see."
"Yeah," snapped Shorts Woman, "but what about you?" You can't always wear what you want. Even at an Elvis Costello concert.
At the end of the 1½-hour show, Elvis Costello, once so reticent in performance, signaled for people to crowd around the stage. And there they danced and sang along with the man who would be king.
Three images remain from this evening:
• An older woman, plugging her ears, a pained expression on her face.
• A young man, standing on his head in his seat, shaking his legs as if fire ants were running all over him; it was his dance.
• Elvis Costello, an angry young man staring down his audience and, finally, smiling.