Focus, May 1978

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Rock 'n roll onslaught

Rick Cacchione

Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Nick Lowe & Rockpile
Mink DeVille
Wilson Auditorium
Cincinnati, Ohio

Mink DeVille plays brutal music about romantic things. It's like wanting to give somebody a lifetime of roses, but settling for hazy long-distance phone calls. It's like wanting to make somebody believe in falling stars again.

Only those stars are falling over some store-front neighborhood. With everybody out on fire-escapes or sittin' on the front stoops. And the old ladies are in run-down, converted movie-house churches and the kids are kickin' back in the alleys.

In fact, I don't know if you know Vine Street in Cincinnati, but that's where Mink DeVille should've played their set, out on some warm street corner or in the Sand Bar Lounge (or maybe at Scwartz's Point).

See, Mink DeVille plays down and dirty R&B-infected rock and roll. And lead-singer/front-man/main-man Willy DeVille is a natural, friends. Too tall, wiry, skinny, wired, one earring, gangster suit, white Gibson guitar cuttin' out cut-crystal, broken glass, chords. The rest of Mink DeVille lays out a street-corner noise for Willy to coast on. Or to punch through. Or to do prime James Brown knee-drop screams to.

This is not a case of backing group and star/singer, this is a rock and roll band. You don't learn to play music like this from books, you just learn. Willy and the guys learned. How did this man spend his adolescence? Bring on the cadillacs.

Nick Lowe & Rockpile. What's there to say about Nick Lowe & Rockpile other than that they're perfect? This band is tight. Dave Edmunds is on guitar, lookin' like a slightly paunchy Shaun Cassidy/daydream teen idol and pullin' vintage rockabilly guitar licks out of an old Rickenbacker like it's still 1957 and things haven't gone wrong yet.

But this ain't nostalgia, 'cause Nick Lowe is around, and he knows it's 1978, and he knows things have gone wrong, and he knows how to fix 'em. This man is deadly. And fun. It's all there; the perfect hair, the speed-freak gum chewing; a work shirt, the bass-lines so simple but so right you gotta laugh or smile. Nick Lowe knows about the stupid majesty of those electric guitars.

Second lead guitarist Billy Bremner is the quiet, retiring member of the Rockpile front line and drummer Terry Williams is perfect. Perfect. Nothin' else to say, case closed. This man is a rhythm mutant. You talk about rock and roll machines, Williams plays like he's never made a bad move in his entire life. Like he hasn't dropped a beat since the last war.

These guys are veterans of the English pub-rock grind. You know the deal; long hauls on dark roads, smokey clubs, five 45-minute sets a night. So when you reduce all that r&r experience to one 35-minute show on a warm summer night in Cincinnati, Ohio, you get something so compressed and so tight it's bright, hard, shiny and unshakable. Like a diamond. Or like a Rockpile.

This music is rock. This music is boppable. (If you don't bop to Nick Lowe, you are either a) not of the human being species, or b) a bored, bearded rock critic.

And Nick Lowe loves the sound of breaking glass.

What Elvis Costello loves, however, is a toss-up. Certainly not the radio, judging from "Radio Radio," the best song ever written about radio, and the most realistic song around right now about the rock and roll situation in 1978. Check it out the next time you're overwhelmed by indifference.

With the addition of the Attractions, Steve Naive on organ and hisses, Bruce Thomas on bass and vocals and Pete Thomas on drums, Elvis Costello has moved from being another Graham Parkerish-Van Morrison/Bob Dylan spin-off to being the lead singer/lead guitarist of a spark-spitting rock and roll onslaught.

And I get the strange feeling that the audience tonight doesn't know quite what to do with/about Elvis Costello. In general this is sort of like seeing/hearing The Doors if Jim Morrison had been a certified public accountant instead of an alcoholic film-major-college-student.

Elvis is shakin' these weird angular lead guitar noises out of his Fender Jazzmaster and there's the same feeling of "anything could happen next/this guy could snap at any time" in the air that you get from somebody like Iggy Pop, only Elvis Costello doesn't make it easy for the audience by being bizzarre or going beserk. He just stands there in his green or orange spotlight being intense. And waits for the audience to react. Or to snap. Or to go for it.

So Elvis & the Attractions race through a set of old favorites ("Miracle Man," "Red Shoes," a manic-depressive "Watching the Detectives"), new favorites ("The Beat," "Pump It Up," "This Year's Girl"), mixes in some new songs (one of which Allen and I decided is a cover of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me," only it isn't 'cause Elvis never quite gets to the chorus) and finishes with a perfect rendition of the first album's "Allison."

He then dashes offstage, comes back to encore with "Lipstick Vogue" and "I'm Not Angry" before leaving the stage again. So with no Attractions onstage but with the houselights still off, an Abba tape starts playing over the P.A., and in a magnificent Pavlovian display the entire audience stops clapping and starts getting ready to go home like the nice, well-behaved, indifferent college students they were.

Shouting down Abba for more Elvis was your test for the evening, Cincinnati, and you failed.


Focus, May 1978

Rick Cacchione reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with opening acts Nick Lowe and Mink DeVille, Wednesday, May 17, 1978, Wilson Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH.


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