Edmonton Journal, November 13, 1978
Elvis Costello, live, is a tribute to
My nerves are jangly. My heart's pumping at double rate.
It's an hour since the concert and the nerve-ends of my fingers are still tingling.
What we saw at the Jubilee Auditorium last night was the resurrection of popular music.
It sounds corny, but the live experience of Elvis Costello is literally overwhelming, as important a musical event as being turned on to Elvis Presley in the '50s, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who in the '60s.
We've become conditioned to top 40 pulp: disco, Bee Gee brand ice cream. We've forgotten what real music is all about.
Music that shakes your values to the bone.
Thanks to the music, you start to see many situations around you with wide-open eyes. Brutally honest music makes you aware of the incredible number of screens needed to survive.
Costello was stunning.
He stunned the packed hall with his unrelenting declaration of reality. Many people didn't stand up at first. I think they were zapped by the power of this music and this man.
What Costello does live, is tribute to the whole new musical wave that has been nurtured in England over the past few years, and only now is spreading from the eastern seaboard westwards.
Costello is the most brilliant of what is called the New Wave of music. Music that represents a total commitment to energy, music that demands the musician's all.
It's a guerrilla-type spread, because (a) the established channels of popular music don't recognize it, and (b) the impact must be live.
The energy is lost any time it's filtered through an intermediary medium, be it radio, record, or television.
Records serve to inform of the stark lyrical content of Costello's short story songs, but the record can't convey the presence and the power of Costello, live.
He was coiled all evening. A snake poised to strike, resting in that suspense for more than an hour. The set was like an elastic band, stretched beyond capacity but never snapping.
What a strange little paradox is this 23-year-old Englishman. He looks like a meek wishy-washy throwback to the 50s. Horn-rim glasses, pug nose, catalogue cords, and a plain jacket.
Yet his stage presence is mesmerizing.
He commands a formidable inner strength. But it's rarely wasted on loose movement. The strength is funneled lile a laser into his voice and his guitar.
His movements are slight. An occasional gesture, a quick shuffle backstage for the short tight instrumentals.
The band is stripped to essentials only. The Attractions are only a threesome, with bass, organ and drums.
Costello plunged in from the start. One song led directly into another. The rhythm never broke, but built in intensity from start to finish. Costello didn't say a word until after three introductory songs. including "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes," and "Waiting For The End of the World." When he did say hello, it was without missing a beat in the set.
The songs, each the short, terse situational stories in which Costello excels, ran pell-mell one on top of another. "Radio, Radio," a new song called "Accidents Will Happen," "The Beat" (which gave Costello a half minute to play his incredibly power-packed guitar lead.) to the astounding precision of "Lip Service." The only song not played was "Alison," already popularized and bastardized by a slick Linda Ronstadt cover.
Never was the controlled fury more in evidence than in "Lipstick Vogue." The lighting, banks of clear glare from the sides, top, and back of the stage, worked hand in hand with the musical energy. During the song, the lights faded and the song diminished in volume, but not intensity. With total blackness, a suspense grew over the intensity of the instrument that become unbearable, and finally resolved at the last moment by Costello's stepping into a single, gradually introduced, infra-red beam.
By the finish, with "Watching the Detectives," "You Belong To Me" and songs coming so quickly their names couldn't be caught, Costello doffed his guitar and swung down into the orchestra pits reaching out with his harsh voice to the crowd. A surge ran up the aisles, and hundreds of persons, with a new genuine hero, raced to the front.
Suddenly, it was over. Costello raced off stage right, the band stage left. After five minutes of roaring ovations. he came back out, finished an encore with "Miracle Man," leaving an echo of a hastily shouted goodnight flashing through the crowd.
The warm-up act, The Battered Wives, had the same energy as Costello, but were more frantic and scattered.
They were more power pop, with the marvelous antic mania bought about by the less musically-sophisticated element of the new wave.
Drummer Cleave Anderson provided the Memorable Moment. After banging his head against the snare 10 times, he rolled off the drum stool, crawled to the front of the stage, chugged a beer, then poured the rest over his head and into his pants.
The Battered Wives were great fun, and an excellent warm-up act to prepare for Costello.
They have, incidentally, defiantly gone back to calling themselves The Battered Wives. In the face of adverse publicity, the band had bowed to woman's groups in Montreal and Toronto and announced a change of name to The Wives. (More on that story tomorrow.)
Nobody threw tomatoes.
The Battered Wives couldn't help but be paled in the shadow of the enormous musical talent that followed them on stage.
"Thank you," screamed out one excited spectator into the night. "Thank you for waking up the Prairies."
Edmonton Journal, November 13, 1978
Photo by Chris Gabrin.