Hot Press, March 30, 1978

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Hot Press

UK & Ireland magazines


From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

Elvis Costello / Stella, Rathmines

Niall Stokes

When I walk in the door of the Stella, one of our evening's hosts is standing there. Let's call him Tommy, for gas.

Now he knows me and I know him and he knows I'm here to work but y'know what he says? "There's no guest list."

Which doesn't really surprise me. Really. Now If Jim Aiken — or almost any other promoter in this country — said the same thing, I'd be surprised. But this sort of scene has taken place before with, that's right, your friendly local concert promoters Santa Anna. Ask any of the press people in town — like our own Liam Mackey who was kept waiting outside Status Quo's stadium gig for the best part of an hour and a half — in the rain — though he was there to review the event for us AND the whole thing had been okayed by Colin Johnson, Quo's manager, in the first place; all Liam had to do was ask for Johnson, which he did, but it don't look like the message percolated...

Or ask Chris Roche, WEA's man on the spot (and that means he handles Elvis' Radar material — in other words his current album This Year's Model) who isn't here tonight because — the promoter wouldn't get a guest list together with him. Or ask me.

I don't say nothin' — just give Tommy what must amount to a pretty blank stare. But all is not lost. Someone close by says, "Is that Hot Press?" Someone from Santa Anna that is. Tommy looks over, she gives him the nod and he begins to rummage in his pocket, muttering something like "hold on."

And what does he produce? A piece of paper, with writing on it. And the writing on it looks like names. A list. A guest list?

He looks at it. Well, he should know.

Then he says OK and grins a weak kind of grin.

Very funny.

Better still, later on the same guy tells Julian Vignoles (for it is he) that I brought a crowd. Which is just the biggest bunch of bullshit you're ever likely to set ears on. Now isn't it?

Likewise this whole petty, carping attitude about guest lists. So somebody ought to sort it out now and let's get on with promoting the good music.

Which is a whole heap of garbage to impose on an Elvis review I know — and for which I apologise — but it's been brewing for a long, long time, that one.

But once inside — well it was the nearest I've come to pure bliss at a live gig so far this year. Costello and his band are just so good.

There was a vibe doing the rounds late last year that maybe his live gigs didn't match up to the promise of My Aim Is True — but don't believe that for a minute.

There's an extent to which he could come a commercial cropper as a result of his courage as a performer, in that he refuses to rely on familiar stuff to win the night. The number of songs in his current set lifted from his first album is minimal. Consequently his performances provide a challenge for an audience of a type which it unusual in the current album-tour package deal context.

You know the score, where everything is calculatedly designed to turn over units and more fundamental (dare I say artistic) considerations can sweet bugger off.

So an audience won't get the usual cosy reassurance that they know what it's all about from an Elvis gig. And if you want to complain about that, fine. But this guy believes in carving out new constituencies all the time, the message being — if you can't keep up, drop out, brothers and sisters.

Plus he's got a great band, which means he can afford to keep moving where others'd play safe. Which is a nice bonus for the man himself.

Roll call. And whereas all three partners in the mastermind's crime sound great, the one that stood out for me was bass player Bruce Thomas, formerly with Sutherland Brothers and Quiver incidentally, a man capable not only of holding down the rhythm end of things to a fine point, but able also to fill in openings in the upper register when it seemed that we might just be about to detect a flaw. He's a really flexible and often startlingly proficient musician.

That was on the night. But I can well imagine how the same could apply equally to drummer Pete Thomas and organist Steve Naieve on any other occasion, both of whom were mighty impressive — fingers on the pulse — anyway.

And Elvis came on like a demented rock 'n' roll ruler (about twelve inches long?), who's being attacked from all sides (who isn't?) and is coming back fighting (now there's a difference) and with intelligence (now there's a real difference), great presence, voice, delivery — the lot.

The overall effect was such that this supposedly objective observer just had to dance. Well with classics like "Mystery Dance," "Red Shoes," "Chelsea" (buy the single!), "Watchin' The Detectives" (magnificent!) and "I'm Not Angry" going down, what'd you expect? Hey?

And if you don't know that lot, bud, you're the loser. Get with it or get left behind. 'Cos Elvis Costello and the Attractions are undoubtedly one of the the finest rock bands treading the boards today.

See, through all the white heat and the intensity comes a feeling, or a sense, of the real complexity of human affairs of many shades and hues. Costello gets down the pain more so than the joy but without self-delusion or self-pity. With a feeling, in fact, of unswerving self-critical honesty (and all honesty involves self-criticism).

Through music, that pain is transformed into joy. Which, in my terms, is where you really begin to scale the heights.

Elvis Costello has the power and he's still human-size enough to give it to the people. You'd be a fool to refuse.

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Hot Press, March 30, 1978

Niall Stokes reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Thursday, March 16, 1978, Stella Cinema, Dublin, Ireland.


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Niall Stokes comments, March 2008

"It's funny. Half the review I wrote of Elvis' momentous Stella gig back in 1978, was taken up with an elaborate complaint about the guest list. I had a point ­ but if you'd asked me to talk about the night without looking back over the piece, I wouldn't have recalled a single aspect of all that ludicrous squabbling. But it is a tribute to the power of the music that I remember it with almost luminous clarity.

Elvis had emerged with My Aim Is True, an album full off great songs which was musically stripped down, country tinged in places and relatively carefully considered. But with the Attractions now on board, This Year's Model exploded with pent-up fury, energy and invention. There was a whiff of amphetamine in the air ­ and the live show distilled all of that and unleashed it in a wonderfully visceral way.

It was a night of extraordinary musical power and urgency ­ and I guess in retrospect the review captures that feeling reasonably well. But there was a sense too, on the night, of the kind of breadth of Elvis' vision and how he would evolve as a songwriter and musician of real enduring greatness. He was never one to be squeezed into any box and I think I had twigged that.

Pain into joy we need more of that..."


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