Elvis Costello is the first commercially successful new-wave artist, as shown by the audience at his two sold-out shows in Toronto. The suburban split-level set was out in full force, represented by pubescent kids from Scarborough and Mississauga. But he'll take his audience from wherever he can find them. Costello has said that he wants success but he also wants to retain full control over his direction.
It was his third appearance in Toronto in a little over a year and a half; the previous two being at the El Mocambo and Massey Hall. For this present 13-city tour, Costello has decided not to have producer-influence-friend Nick Lowe open. Rather, [Battered] Wives, whose name change (temporarily at that) was brought about by pressure from various women's groups, was the opening act. One of the women's groups, Women Against Violence Against Women, demonstrated outside between the two shows, to the collective chant of "bullshit" from the unimpressed concert-goers. The action inside was more to my taste. (Battered) Wives played a short adrenaline-laced set to start off the frantically-paced evening. Their song intros were very subtle: "Sid Vicious' girlfriend, Pope John Paul I and Disco; they're all dead." They then broke into "Disco's Dead," and the audience was theirs. They also did a hyper-ventilated version of Kink's "Ya Really Got Me" and the classic "Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll", with the two guitarists bopping around like Chuck Berry on speed. "Uganda Stomp" (bomp-idi-bomp), a huge Toronto favorite, drew the loudest applause from the anxious crowd.
Then Elvis Costello ran on stage, dressed in his trade mark suit; with day-glo orange shoes. His close-cropped hair, standing vertically, never moved as he raced through his two albums, My Aim is True and This Year's Model. Elvis Costello is a 24-year-old who puts out mass quantities of anger and hostility. But, it's not depressing; it's a great high. He's the result of opposing forces of success and failure and he has a hell of a time telling about it.
He played all the stronger songs from his albums, as well as some songs off an LP which has been released domestically. One of these, "[I Don't Want to Got to] Chelsea," shows how much he fears the crap and the constant change that accompany success. "The Beat" and "Pump it Up" caused the crazies at the front to pogo frantically. His backing band, The Attractions, sounded like Booker T. and the MG's, and were great. Costello played an extended version of "Red Shoes" and tried to get the seated audience off its collective ass to dance. But somebody should have told him that most Toronto audiences are a cross between a funeral service and a convention of parapalegic mutes.