It's Only Rock 'N' Roll, March 1978

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Waiting for the end of the world with Elvis Costello

Ron Young

Walking into Austin's Inner Sanctum Records one can see that the Elvis Costello phenomenon has struck hard and fast. They offer gift certificate prizes in their E.C. look-alike contest; they're selling Elvis sweatshirts, gigantic posters of the elfin rock figure hang from the walls and large stand-ups of Elvis aim true at customers waiting to buy tickets to his already sold-out performance for this night at Armadillo World Hq.

The Armadillo is jam-packed by eight o'clock and the show doesn't begin for an hour — unusual for Austin where folks are known to saunter in just minutes before the main act steps on stage. Many people have come from San Antonio and surrounding parts to see what could be "the next big thing."

After trying to no avail to persuade concert director Jan Hash to let us backstage to interview Elvis after the show we unexpectedly got to talk with Elvis' manager, Jake Riviera.

Riviera had recently left his partner, Dave Robinson, and their Stiff label, and taken Elvis and Elvis' producer and performer stablemate, Nick Lowe, with him.

A rather keyed-up individual, Riviera, like Costello, has little love for the press, but he was talking easily. About the legality of Stiff releasing any of Elvis' old material, he said they couldn't now that he had signed with CBS, although they had rights to a couple "live" tracks from a performance film of Elvis in England.

He said Nick Lowe was going to produce the next LP as well and that Nick himself had just signed with Mercury Records. Right now they were narrowing down the best of fifty new Elvis songs for his next release.

Riviera told us this was the first show of Elvis' new tour and the first time to play in Texas.

He finished his first tour before Christmas, did the Saturday Night Live performance (where many saw him for the first time) and then flew back to England for a rest.

Elvis & Co. had gotten in just a few hours before because they were snowed in at the New York airport. They were scheduled to do a radio interview at KLBJ but the station manager said they'd come too late and cancelled it.

Following this news, Riviera launched into a spiel about his reasons for his and Elvis' reluctance to have anything to do with the press. They even regretted doing the Time Magazine article. This is when Jake told us not to quote him on anything.

Clover, the San Francisco group who moved to England and backed Elvis on My Aim is True, is not the same group as The Attractions. He told us these were all English: Pete Thomas, drums; Bruce Thomas, bass; and Steve Young, keyboards.

Riviera elaborated on his dissatisfaction with CBS in not pushing any singles off the LP before launching into a tirade on the joke that is American radio.

An intense Elvis Costello took the stage, and the first SRO Armadillo crowd in six months was on its feet for the entire concert.

With little ado Costello opened his show with "Welcome to the Working Week," a bit of an analogy of his present situation. "Now that your picture's in the paper and you're perfectly admired and you have everything that you have ever desired, all ya' gotta tell me now is why, why, why! Welcome to the working week!"

Being the new kid in town is a heavy task but it's also just another job. After a fast rendition of "Red Shoes" he did "Miracle Man" about the almost impossible expectations of a lover.

Elvis' band is a tightly knit unit that followed his every move. The keyboardist on Vox organ and piano took most of the lead work while Elvis played rhythm and concentrated on lyrics and poses.

His show was energetic, taken at a non-stop pace with dedicated playing from the band.

The poignant "Alison," done with Steve Young on piano, was followed by Elvis' rock 'n' roll sermonette on the state of radio, "Radio, Radio." Elvis lambasted the medium even though he might be "biting the hand that feeds."

Costello performed the menacing, cinematic, "Watching the Detectives," with which he pulled the audience into his movie. Elvis did about fifty percent from his LP and fifty percent new material. His personality onstage was not cold and distant as presented in other rock papers.

It was definitely business with no time for pauses between numbers, but Elvis certainly kept the spirit and caliber of his performance high throughout.

His performance, at times, was reminiscent of a "fire and brimstone" preacher. Costello has the ability to pinpoint his anger at people and situations and problems with laser-like accuracy.

Many of the so-called punk groups fail to do this and just flail away at problems without naming them.

The sinister "Less than Zero" had him more resigned than angry about the problem of British Nazi Oswald Mosley on the BBC, and although the slide guitar work on the stalking, Dylanesque "Waiting for the End of the World" was sorely missed it nevertheless hit home.

Elvis finished the set with a fast-paced "Mystery Dance" which lost the finesse of the arrangement on record but was still well-received and had the audience howling with the laughter of recognition.

He came back for an encore, after switching guitars, and did "Girl of the Year" and one other.

It was, indeed, one of the finest rock 'n' roll shows ever seen. When Elvis sings his songs of repression, guilt and anger, it is heightened to an even greater degree because of the contradiction of his onstage persona.

Somehow, his looks don't seem to go along with what he's trying to say. But, just remember Peter Lorre from the movies and you can begin to understand that Elvis is just the underdog having his day.

We're not saying that Elvis Costello is "The Next Big Thing," but he could be. He expresses himself better than any lyricist since Lennon left the scene. You could never dance to Dylan and think about what he was saying, and the Beatles lost it with their broader concepts. Elvis gives the best of both. He's got the moniker and he can wear the crown.

Tags: AustinArmadillo World HeadquartersJake RivieraDave RobinsonStiffNick LoweCBS2nd US TourSaturday Night LiveTime MagazineCloverSan FranciscoMy Aim Is TrueThe AttractionsPete ThomasBruce ThomasSteve YoungWelcome To The Working Week(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesMiracle ManAlisonRadio, RadioWatching The DetectivesLess Than ZeroOswald MosleyBob DylanWaiting For The End Of The WorldMystery DanceThis Year's GirlJohn LennonThe Beatles


It's Only Rock 'N' Roll, No. 1, March 1978

Ron Young profiles EC and reviews his concert with The Attractions, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 1978, Armadillo World Headquarters, Austin, Texas.

Ron Young reviews My Aim Is True.


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Page scans.

My Aim Is True

Elvis Costello

Ron Young

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If not the album of the year then certainly the most exciting debut in an already important year for Rock.

Elvis Costello doesn't look like your average beautiful rock star. He's an ugly duckling with short, thatched hair and Buddy Holly glasses; the kid down the block whose mom made him study when the rest of the neighborhood was playing.

He could be you or me on this classic piece of rock 'n' roll vinyl. His musical influences are fifties and early sixties rock. His thin, nasal vocal style leans towards Graham Parker.

Although more rock 'n' roll than Motown, with a dash of Nick Lowe with the old Brinsley Schwartz band. This LP is deftly produced by Lowe who also produces Parker.

Originally released on Stiff records, CBS heard Costello and decided to see if he could reach a larger audience.

Listening to Elvis Costello is like discovering rock 'n' roll for the first time! "I won't get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes!," he sings in "Red Shoes," and the childlike imagery of never growing up is what rock is all about.

"Mystery Dance" is a brilliant first experience with sex metaphor that has fifties classic written all over it. "I'm Not Angry" has Elvis' romantic vulnerability combined with raw rage and a bitter guitar riff which displays the neurotic urgency that runs through the whole LP.

Closely tied to "Angry" is "Alison," a bittersweet ballad about the duality of an old lover and the complex inner feelings of a man dealing with the problem. "Less Than Zero," the British hit single, is about neo-Nazi Oswald Mosley having his own TV show on the BBC and a few other things that make "everything seem less than zero."

All songs are beautiful linkups of melody and lyrics that you can dance to and listen to. Along with Lennon, Dylan, Davies, Townshend and Newman, Elvis Costello emerges as one of the most original and creative minds in rock 'n' roll. Buy this album and catch the "Ratio Sweetheart" single on the Hits Greatest Stiffs import LP.

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Photo by Robbin Cresswell.

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Cover and page scans.


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