Last weekend, the Austin Opry House was the site of a bonafied Cultural Event. It was the third Austin appearance of His Royal Obtuseness, 'The King of Weirdo Rock and Roll," Elvis Costello.
"It's nice to be out of California and back where they have real people," Costello said, a rare smile crossing his face. Austin was obviously glad to see him too. Both his Friday and Saturday shows sold out.
The show even started on time(!) and after a tuneful, clever set by the Rubinoos (an excellent band to look for) Costello lit right into "Accidents Will Happen," his new theme song or manifesto. His band, The Attractions, played each selection with power and grace, infusing the songs with even more energy than they have on vinyl.
Naturally the evening's fare emphasized the new Armed Forces LP, but we were treated to many new songs, obscure Elvis classics, and well-known favorites. For me, the real showpiece was "Stranger in the House," a rare single which owes a great debt to (believe it or not) Hank Williams and Roy Orbison. If you can find the 45 with "Stranger" / "Neat, Neat, Neat (live)" you will possess the most flat-out drimatic song of the Seventies.
The best of the new selections was "Motel Matches." It was strange but effective to hear The Attractions playing in Waltz Time! Elvis' only big guitar solo came in the paranoia-infused "I Don't Wanna Go To Chelsea" when he set aside his old Fender and strapped on a shiny new red Stratocaster. The mental home-romance-boggie never sounded so good.
Fans who expected tunes from the first album were, doubtless, disappointed. "Red Shoes" and the obligatory "Watching The Detectives" (which is always turned into an instrumental showcase, with a constantly revised arrangement) were the only songs he played from My Aim Is True. "Hand In Hand," "Pump It Up," "This Year's Girl," "You Belong To Me," and most of the other tunes from the second LP were featured. Surprisingly, the song which elicited the loudest crowd response was "Green Shirt" from the new record.
There were three encores. The kids did not want to let these London boys leave. Upon returning to the stage one time Elvis screamed: "We noticed a change in the radio since we were here last... It's gotten WORSE!!" Whereupon The Attractions charged headlong into an inspired rendition of Elvis' indictment of the current rampant media mediocrity: "Radio, Radio."
For a rock fan like myself, the fact that four guys with two Fenders, an organ, and a drum kit can inspire the kind of dancing excitement that Elvis and The Attractions can, is inspiring. It restores my faith. Get the Costello records, and, for Pete's sake, don't miss Elvis and The Attractions on the next go-round. They will return.