HOLMDEL — Elvis Costello and The Attractions offered fans much of the new stuff, a lot of the old, but very little of the in-between.
Costello and his former band took the stage at the Garden State Arts Center on June 15. They opened the show with "No Action," a scathing tune from his 1978 new-wave album, This Year's Model. That set the tone for the whole concert. They started out hard-core and stayed that way throughout the two-hour show.
Costello seemed very aware that he hadn't toured with this band in eight years; and his choice of songs gave evidence that he knew what the old-time fans in the audience wanted to hear.
Songs from the band's first few albums were featured heavily. Those were from the bad old days when Elvis (his real name is Declan MacManus) was the acid-tongued intellectual of the new-wave movement, staggering around the world, making controversial headlines wherever he appeared. These albums include: My Aim is True, Armed Forces, Taking Liberties Trust, Get Happy, and of course, his personal favorite, This Year's Model.
The band played almost every song from Costello's new release, Brutal Youth, with the notable exception of "Just About Glad," and "This is Hell."
But they did nothing from the albums of the mid-'80s, during the murkier part of Costello's career when his band and his first marriage were breaking up.
They played little from his financially and critically successful solo career. Gone also were the long, rambling soliloquies of his solo tours. Only the touching "Favorite Hour" was done without the band and without a guitar, just a stout little Irishman singing in a way that could bring tears to your eyes.
He did play "Deep, Dark Truthful Mirror" however, and the top 40s hit, "Veronica," was hauled out late in the show, but one got the feeling that was only to wake up a crowd that seemed a bit sleepy and woefully unaware of the historic significance of the event.
Elvis himself has always been pretty ambivalent about The Attractions, which consist of keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas. Crediting himself with all the songwriting achievements, he once said a bunch of college musicians would have served just as well as a backup band. Yet, in the liner notes of Girls, Girls, Girls, he gives the trio praise for contributing much to the music. He cut poor Bruce Thomas to ribbons with lyrics on Mighty Like a Rose to teach the bassist a lesson for writing a novel based on the band's early days. And the new release is by Elvis Costello, not by Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
Whatever the case may be, while on stage last week he treated them like gentlemen.
Unlike their first public appearance on the David Letterman show a few weeks ago, they played together tight, hard and well. Fans got a chance to hear the songs like they were meant to be played, and for a couple of hours it must have sounded just the like the old days.