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.