It's encouraging to see a musical phenomenon like the New Wave kicking some life and spontaneity into the stagnant rigormortis of a commercialized music industry currently dominated by such predictable hit-makers as the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Linda Ronstadt.
But is this New Wave really a new animal or a polished rehashing of the British invasion of the early sixties?
When Liverpool New Wavers Elvis Costello and the Attractions took the Rathskellar stage last Friday night, memories of such sixties rock 'n' roll legends as the Animals and early Rolling Stones and Who ran rampant. Backed by a band that resembled refugees from Herman's Hermits, Costello nervously clutched his Fender, stared blankly through his horn rimmed glasses and moved into the opening lines of "Mystery Dance:"
Romeo was restless, he was ready to kill
Jumped out the window cause he couldn't stand still
Juliet was waiting with a safety net
He said, "Don't bury me cause I ain't dead yet"
Why don't you tell me 'bout the mystery dance?
I tried and I tried but I'm still mystified
I can't do it anymore and I'm not satisfied.
An endless barrage of off-the-wall lyrics, based on simple, but enjoyable melodies followed as Costello attacked generous portions of his first American release, My Aim is True, and earlier English recordings, in an extended set that saw people dancing in the aisles and hanging from the rafters before it all ended.
Supporting Costello's assault was the calculated studio-like sound of the Attractions, a trio sporting Eric Burdon haircuts, vests and narrow ties of the Carnaby Street variety. Featuring Bruce Thomas on bass, Steve Niave handling keyboards and Pete Thomas pounding drums, the Attractions exhibited an ice-water coolness on stage that created visions closer to sixties pop than seventies punk.
Costello's compositions ranged from the proverbial love ballad ("Alison, my aim is true") to quasi-political ramblings ("Poor Mr. Oswald with the swastika tattoo") to philosophical observations ("There's no such thing as an original sin") into apathetic bliss ("The angels wanna wear my red shoes").
A computer programmer turned musician, Costello also sometimes alluded to his past, at one point sarcastically singing, "Don't want to deceive you - but I'm no good with machinery."
During Costello's opening offerings, which included Phil Spector's "No Dancing," "Waiting For the End of the World" and "Telephone Junkie," the crowd of 600 seemed slightly dazed and confused by the music that confronted them.
But, the mood within the confines of the Rat loosened up as Costello moved into his more publicized material, including "Alison," "Watching the Detectives" and "Red Shoes."
Costello later demanded to "see some legs," urging the audience to "kick those chairs out of the way and dance!"
Two lone dancers responded to the call by rocking out into the area in front of the stage, only to be officially ushered away by security personnel not accustomed to such "rebellious" behavior.
Aided by angry gestures from Elvis, the couple was finally allowed to dance, bringing on a deluge of other jitterbugs who couldn't stand still any longer.
In contrast to Costello's polished; and conservatively structured brand of British New Wave, Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band opened the show with a strong dose of hard-core Americana, bringing a wilder and more irreverent brand of punk to the stage.
Alexander's years of experience with the post-Lou Reed Velvet Underground and the Lost have bred a pompous, yet accessible stage style. The veteran rocker's tattered garb, complimented by safety pin accessories and mascara a la Jagger, exemplified his aggressive approach to performing.
Alternately sneering and smiling at the crowd while literally pounding on his battered and grafitti-obscured piano, Alexander worked his way through several sticks of chewing gum and a well-received set of original songs and covers.
Opening the show with a slurred rendition of "Let's Go to the Rat," a remnant of the 35-year-old Alexander's early days in Boston laced with references to Kent State, the Boom Boom Band proceeded to crank out an orgy of pulsations that left little doubt as to the origin of their billing.
A throbbing but too-short version of "Radio Heart" and an impressive rendition of the ancient "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" were among the musical highlights displayed by this proficient blend of high-energy musicians.