It should have happened here. Elvis Costello and Squeeze took a capacity audience at Virginia Tech's Burruss Hall by storm Tuesday night, with two stunning sets of driven, exciting rock 'n' roll.
The audience, shot through with refugees from James Madison University's stagnant concert scene, was on their feet and ecstatic almost from the word go. Many of them were unfamiliar with the music of Squeeze, but they were won over by that band's combination of tight ensemble playing, intelligent lyrics and controlled showmanship. Drawing on tunes from their two most recent LPs, Cool for Cats and Argybargy, Squeeze played an hour and 15 minutes of solid, yet not overbearing rock.
Lead vocalist Glenn Tilbrook set the pace for the rest of the band, as he took them through such numbers as "Pulling Mussels (from the shell)," "Another Nail Through My Heart," "Separate Beds" and "Misadventure."
The rest of the group was well up to the standards set by Tilbrook. Bassist John Bentley, although somewhat lost in the mix, gave a demonstration of tight, disciplined playing. Together with drummer Gilson Lavis he carried the complicated rhythm lines of Squeeze's material. Jools Holland's keyboards added attractive textures and fill to the guitars of Tilbrook and rhythm guitarist Chris Difford, who assumed lead vocal duties on a few cuts. Enthusiastic calls for an encore were gratefully obliged by Squeeze, who took to the stage for a second time to deliver a pair of additional numbers to an audience which included many more fans than it had at the start.
The band displayed a sense of professionalism, not always seen in opening groups, which the audience obviously appreciated. Squeeze showed that they are a band with definite potential to go to the top.
But it was still a Costello crowd that greeted the end of Squeeze s performance with a standing ovation. Their wait for Elvis was not to be long, thanks to a very intelligent policy of the two bands sharing as much equipment as possible. The delay between Squeeze's departure and Costello's arrival was to be a mere 20 minutes.
Elvis and the Attractions rushed onto the stage, plugged in and eased into a modified version of Get Happy's "New Amsterdam." Elvis was in fine vocal form, as he handled the different rhythm with ease. The song set the tone for the evening: the show would be well paced and extremely professional.
Costello and company would thunder through a series of numbers, each of which upped the ante of the proceeding one. Before the night was over, they would work their way through "Motel Matches," "High Fidelity," "Green Shirt," "(I Don't Want to go to) Chelsea" and others from the new LP.
The Attractions, while not exactly the most mobile band in the world, presented a unique stage presence to backed Costello admirably. Bassist Bruce Thomas, attired in white shirt, bow tie and black trousers, paced his side of the stage, tearing runs from his red Fender Precision with the talent and verve which have earned him praise as one of the most underrated bassists around. Thomas is probably the backbone of the Attractions' sound, with his distinctive style of playing.
Keyboard player Steve Nieve sat hunched behind his instruments throughout much of the show, barely visible. Nieve, who occupies the most prominent place in the band's sound, is a talented and innovative player and a distinctive force in the Attractions' music.
Drummer Pete Thomas, one of the most powerful percussionists in rock, can handle almost any rhythm with ease.
And then there was Elvis. He probably didn't move more than five feet in any direction during the entire show, but he can convey more emotion with just a few gestures and facial expressions than most heavy metal cretins can with all their leaping and lurching. Costello took the band all over the place, from the anger of "High Fidelity" and "Radio Radio" to the tenderness of "Alison." Assisted on guitar by special guest Martin Belmont (of the Rumour), Costello gave a stunning vocal and instrumental performance.
Everything came to a head on the final number of the regular set, "Radio Radio." Costello sang like a man possessed, as the Attractions and Belmont pounded away behind, taken up and carried away by the same force. The audience erupted into the same sustained standing ovation it had been practicing from the start, as Elvis said a terse "goodnight."
For a few moments, the only sound in Burruss was a sustained human thunderclap, as thousands of voices called for Costello and the Attractions to return to the stage. When they did, the relief was palpable.
For an encore, the group tore into an extended version of "Watching the Detectives," which they followed with a manic, sustained version of "Pump it Up," during which Costello introduced the Attractions and Belmont, to more sustained applause.
As the house lights came up, the crowd was still on its feet, calling for more of the Costello magic to be unleashed on them.
This show was an example of an the things that can go right with a live rock performance. The two bands obviously have a great deal of respect for each other, as evidenced by their sharing of equipment and their equal billing for the concert.
The two bands also spent an almost equal amount of time on stage. Security was relatively loose, with none of the usher-induced barbarities one expects in Godwin Hall. The sound, while somewhat vocal-heavy, was clean and not oppressively loud, even up front.
It should have happened here.