Elvis Costello celebrated his musical debutante ball Tuesday night at Pine Knob by leaving early.
He was just 50 minutes into his coming out into the music industry's commercial society — "Everyday I Write the Book" is his first bona fide hit single —when he said good night and walked off, catching his band and his technical crew off guard, and angering a good portion of the three-quarters full theater.
His road manager said Costello was upset because his guitars were out of tune. Things seemed to fall into place soon enough after that; the show continued for another 40 minutes with Costello looking more comfortable and the band — featuring the four-piece T.K.O. horn section in addition to the three Attractions — sounded considerably tighter.
But the whole evening proved a showcase for Costello's discomfort with the impending nature of his long-overdue commercial success. Before he walked off, he was sticking fairly close to the pre-arranged set list, and he also seemed to resent having to introduce the older — and presumably less familiar — material, telling the audience at one point, "We want to play some songs from our new album, Punch the Clock, and we've got some other songs you won't have heard before."
It was a needless disclaimer; the crowd was as familiar with more obscure selections like "Possession," "Secondary Modern," "Man Out of Time" and "Mystery Dance" as it was with any of the five choices off Punch the Clock.
Most of the highlights, in fact, came during the older songs. "Watching the Detectives" was sped up and spiced with new horn parts; Costello delivered a stinging guitar solo and broke a string during "Shabby Doll"; a steaming rendition of the O'Jays' "Backstabbers" led into an equally hot version of "King Horse"; and he led into "Alison" with a few bars of Maureen McGovern's "Torn Between Two Lovers."
But, "Hey, these guys can play," was heard more than once during Aztec Camera's 11-song, 45-minute opening set, and if anything, that was an understated assessment.
Bandleader Roddy Frame was the focal point, looking like a new wave Bob Dylan with his spikey haircut, shades and flannel work shirt. But although his songs are rooted in folk, a hard, urgent edge keeps them modern.