Hot Press, July 23, 1981

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Hot Press

UK & Irish magazines

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Elvis Costello


Neil McCormick

A fistful of dynamite, Elvis Costello is electric, impassioned alive. Short, fat, not so cuddly, he breaks hearts and rules, he has to be seen, he has to be believed, but too many eyelids here were heavy with drink, brains befuddled by static reactions....

I make no bones about my admiration for this man; I was enraptured, bedazzled and bewildered. As a songwriter he has pushed pop to new limits of literacy, his way with words never stepping beyond the essential gate-posts of insight and intent. His melodies are insidious and..well...melodic. They exist to be sung. And his singing...

The essence of soul and conviction, Elvis' tones are soft, his scale wide. Who would expect so much life and feeling could be breathed into a song as old as "Alison" – but tonight's live version was superior even to the record. The Attractions adding their own particularly intelligent and heartfelt arrangement, while Elvis stumbled over those heart-rending phrases – not with Ferry-like troubadour romance, but with concentration, care, hurt. "My aim is true... My aim..." was whispered, breathed, lost, sometimes carried in silence and expression "...is true".

Pop songs popped, slow songs crushed, "Clowntime is Over" stood tall in whispered magnificence, a waltzing "Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" proved shockingly soulful. "Watching The Detectives" went uptown with a real reggae centre, James Brown's "I Got You" kicked off proceedings with a raunch and other soul and rock 'n' roll covers produced smiles of amusement and amazement. New song "Human Hands" intrigued, as did a very strange intro to "King Horse". And there was more.

But aspects of this concert that will leave the strongest impressions were not the performance but the ironies and contradictions it threw up, both onstage and off. Firstly in Costello himself, and the crowd he is capable of pulling – not as big as expected, or as interested. His backstage demeanour, no photographs, no interviews, no mixing, proved irksome to assorted liggers but is not in itself unadmirable. Costello, it seems, wishes to concern himself with writing and performing and not with its peripheral distractions, but the machine that has grown up around him, with is aura of heaviness, is unnecessary and a little sad. Sad because it appears to be damaging his career, the aura of mystery it once created having given way to disinterest and irritation. His public persona is down solely to his records, which despite maintaining, even escalating standards, would appear to suffer from falling sales. Macroom's young audience did not appear to be as attracted to Elvis as they were to The Undertones the next day, those lads being, after all, pop stars.

And it is sad because the crowd was not really rooting for Elvis, did not follow or understand him. You could say, with is seriousness, the heaviness of emotional output, that Elvis was not exactly festival material, but given a more positive interaction on both parts, he could have been, because these are the people he writes about and for. "I hoped this might be a happy occasion" he said at one point, as another can hurled stage ward, another person got punched.

Instead it was an occasion with much ignorance on display. Mohican haired punks threw things while Elvis sang of the ignorance of mis-education: "And you say, Your teachers never told you anything but white lies, but you don't see the lies, and you believe..." They chanted 'Elvis': this man was a puck after all, wasn't he? He played "Alison," from his punk days. They stormed the front stage, punching and kicking, while he sang "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love And Understanding?." Laugh? I could have cried. I probably should have.

"I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" seemed an appropriate theme tune.

One more thought: As the sun set over the hills, Elvis uttered that vehement, punching phrase "It's The Beat" with a disgust that was almost physical, The clouds grew darker, a ragged cheer was raised, a man in front of me was hit by a can and blood appeared above his eye. On the up-beat.

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Hot Press, July 10 - 23, 1981


Neil McCormick reports on the Macroom Festival, June 27, 1981, Macroom, Ireland.

Images

1981-07-23 Hot Press cover.jpg
Cover.

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