In the Fox Theater's Egyptian Ballroom, just behind the stage, lies a large "Egyptian" frieze; the clothes are Egyptian, but the physiology is Roman and the iconography is somewhere between Mayan and Incan. On Wednesday night I also noticed three huge red helium balloons hovering about the ceiling; one was emblazoned, "Elvis is King." The walls and the balcony of the hall were lined with cardboard faces of Elvis Costello looking up from a cardboard camera;one of those displays now confronts visitors of my living room.
But, there wasn't a chair in the Egyptian Ballroom. From the beginning of the concert, it was obvious chairs would have been superfluous, unnecessary, even downright in the way. Elvis Costello and Mink DeVille didn't play music for mild-mannered, easy-chair-inclined foot-tappers; they were out to make us move and to move us, and move we did.
Willy DeVille, the lead singer of Mink DeVille, snaked his way onstage, looking, in his Salvation Army-style three-piece suit and lavender shirt and alligator shoes, like a slick greaser/poolshark refugee from your older brother's yearbook. From his thin knife-like frame, Willy sliced out the lyrics of the songs, punctuated the words with stabbing gesturings, and ended the songs with either a sweeping clean cut to the band or by collapsing in fatigue, sweat pouring from his hair onto his natty vest.
The red-capped guitar player and the madman saxophonist provided musical highlights to counterpoint Willy's vocal display. These two and the rest of the band did a fine job supporting Willy with that brand of high-volume,fast-paced, re-refined, rock and roll, which for convenience's sake we will call New Wave. "Cadillac Walk" is still running through from Wednesday night.
Elvis Costello and The Attractions didn't walk onto the stage. They ran. Then they situated themselves and their instruments to their surroundings, and sprinted all the way to final note of the show. Not for an instant, from the opening notes of "Mystery Dance" to the closing notes (some lost in, some merged with, some bold, clear and above the cheering and clapping crowd) of "I'm Not Angry," did Costello relent his frontal attack. Rather than pause and collect their applause, Elvis and his band fused one song with the next, and even the slower songs like "Alison" wouldn't allow Costello, or his audience, to stand still. The effect was as overpowering as hordes of hungry army ants, millions of angry Chinese, or a herd of government employees in your favorite bar. And Elvis was right out there in front, sharply focused, heightened "twelve times the size of God," inescapable.
With the band tight, driving and excitable behind him, his guitar hanging loosely from his shoulders, pulling his lyrics from his hair, from the bottom of his soul, from his incisive perception, Elvis Costello left no room for distraction. In cords, iridescent sports coat, and characteristic horn-rims, Costello was even more frenzied, if possible, than his audience. Like a man possessed, he would sometimes mechanically strut up to the microphone, sometimes give solid references to the "you's" in the lyrics with an accusing finger, sometimes sing in messiac abandon, sometimes sing with sorrow, sometimes literally spit out the angry lyrics, and sometimes cringe with intrinsic pain.
The intensity (the ability of it to move you or make you move) of Costello's performance is equal to one of Jagger's or Springsteen's. It may not change your life, but it may, at least, change your taste.