So far, most music fans have only seen new wave musician Elvis Costello on NBC's Saturday Night TV show a couple of months ago, when he was a last-minute replacement for the Sex Pistols. If they've seen him at all.
Then, Costello seemed a tiny, combative figure besieged by demons on all sides. lie won his battle that night through the intensity and hostility, with which he punched out his songs.
Friday night at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pa., it was a different story. Costello was in complete command as 3,000 in the packed house cheered and danced the way they must have done at Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly concerts over two decades ago, or at Rolling Stones and Yardbirds concerts in the early '60s.
Costello was still intense, and at least ready to be hostile, but he was full of confidence as he strutted and made sweeping gestures — surprisingly un-knockkneed and un-spastic despite the image created by his photographs and one TV appearance.
His performance showed that not all new wave acts just suddenly appeared, untutored and raw. Costello, clearly, had done this sort of thing before.
The 23-year-old Englishman knows how to fit gesture to the apparently authentic emotion generated by his music. He is theatrical but not dishonest.
But, although Costello has had experience as a performer, he has not had success. That is starting to come, too, and it's a delight to see him revel in it.
When the bespectacled Costello, wearing a light suit but no tie, sneakers and almost a waterfall haircut, announced his song "The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes," the crowd cheered and Elvis loved it. He strummed his guitar with a flourish and swaggered to the mike — a man whose ship is coming in.
Most of the instrumental work is handled by a fine bassist and a nifty keyboard player in sunglasses and a short puck haircut. A young, tee-shirted drummer worked hard to keep it all driven.
The crowd wanted an encore and got it. Then the lights came up, but the crowd wanted still more. Finally Costello returned again. He looked pleased underneath the scowl.