It's been a hectic week for the Voice's foreign correspondent. In the last week I've seen four concerts. Elvis, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and two Royal Philharmonic performances. In the interest of space, I'll skip the preambles.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions are beginning to gain airplay and popularity stateside. It is unfortunate that most Americans only know EC as the originator of "Everyday I Write the Book." At the risk of running out of superlatives, suffice it to say that Elvis' stylistically diverse catalogue of punk anthems, heartfelt ballads, country croonings and soulful stomps is infinitely superior to that of other musicians today.
When I first saw EC & the A live last summer in America, I was disappointed. The band displayed their undeniable talents, but failed to send my feet into fits the way the albums have. Hoping the singer's vinyl passions might emerge more clearly on his home turn of England, I eagerly offered my six pounds ($7.50) to see the first of his six London shows.
Two neo-political Irish punk bands opened to a mixture of yawns and cheers. After a brief eternity, Elvis finally sprinted onstage as the Attractions began "Sour Milk Cow Blues."
What followed was an impassioned 2½ hours of songs from throughout the band's seven year career. Soulful stompers like "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down," "Watching the Detectives," and "Getting Mighty Crowded" sent the mixed audience of punks and preps into a slam-dancing frenzy.
The highlight of the concert came at the first encore, when Elvis performed solo versions of two remarkable compositions. Both gave voice to Elvis' political views.
The first, "Peace in Our Time" contained a timely lyric: "There's already one space man in the white house, what do they want the same one again for?"
The second encore was a chilling interpretation of Richard Thompson's "The End of the Rainbow." Sung to a young crowd in a country with 15% unemployment, the lyrics illustrated England's festering economic pessimism with haunting poignancy:
"Life looks so rosy in the cradle.
But I'll be a friend and tell you what's in store.
There's nothing at the end of the rainbow.
There's nothing to grow up for anymore."
Clearly this song would not have been effective if sung to Americans; most of the kids who can afford $15 concert tickets and $50 jeans have considerable reason to grow up. Elvis' politics and alleged racism could explain the man's failure to win a Springsteen-like following. English and Americans may speak the same language, but perhaps emotions don't translate as well.