"It's only rock 'n' roll gig."
That's what it was, but that's not what it always seemed to be. Going into the concert I thought I'd be coming out with a rave review. While the music and musicianship was unquestionably of high quality, I emerged from the concert with a sense of bewilderment. And the reason was simple: Elvis Costello is one weird dude.
This was to be the first concert I would review for the News. I borrowed a friends's nifty Nikon camera for the occasion. At the entrance those with cameras were told they could not bring them in. This is unusual for a rock concert. Being the dynamic investigative reporter that I am (?) I attempted to find out why. "Elvis Costello will not play if there are cameras in the audience. He'll walk off the stage, and he's done it before." Hummm. "But I work for the..." "No cameras, no press, nobody!" I asked the security man if he met Elvis. "Yeah. He's a little... strange." The tone for the evening had been set.
You may have seen Elvis Costello and his band on Saturday Night Live when they freaked out 25 million Americans. Last Friday they were very much the same. They had the look and sound of English working-class toughs, not giving a damn about anybody or anything. They did, however, know how to play.
Elvis Costello's debut (and only) album My Aim Is True has been applauded and appreciated. By no means punk, they offer a 1970's sophisticated version of basic rock 'n' roll. Opening with their "Mystery Dance" the group continued without stopping, through a fourteen-song set, using only five tunes from the album. Notably missing was their most popular cut "Allison." New groups don't usually do that, especially when they're just starting to make it big. But this is no ordinary group.
Elvis was certainly not asking his audience to like him. He was almost challenging us to hate him. His fuck-you attitude, the wall he built (figuratively speaking) between the band and the audience both contributed to the general uneasiness and confusion. Not knowing how to react, most of us looked perplexed. To this Elvis responded, "Don't look so nervous. This ain't a classroom, it's only a rock 'n' roll gig." Uneasy laughter. He told everybody to get up and dance. When we did he immediately told us to sit down and stop. How would you feel being picked on by a 22 year old rock 'n' roll singer whom you don't even know and who you've paid to see? The situation was intolerable; the band's attitude was abhorable.
Well, now that my anger is official, here's the good news. As Hamlet said "The play's the thing," I will say "The music's the thing." Bad attitudes aside, these guys do in fact know how to play, and play well. The four member group (Elvis on rhythm guitar and vocals, keyboard, bass, and drums) was tight and slick. They played off each other, and as you can usually tell with close bands, there was non-verbal communication amongst the players giving them added unity and precision. The talent they displayed in the studio was brought to the stage, I can't get the word "class" out of my mind. In this regard they are a class band.
My feelings about Elvis Costello remain stubbornly ambivalent. While I will buy his next album, I won't go see him the next time he's in town.
Opening the show was Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band. (Who?) Don't ask. Anyone who says "This song is on our album. It's out on the streets now so pick it up!" can't be too good. Rest assured, they weren't. They were awful. Enough said.
Next week on these very same pages the excitable boy, Warren Zevon, comes to town.