The last time Elvis Costello came to Leeds he was part of the Bunch of Stiffs tour, and his face wasn't too familiar, in fact so unfamiliar that one of the stewards threatened to beat him up when he tried to get back-stage. Things have changed quite a bit since then, and the speed with which this concert sold out hinted at the size of the following he's built up.
John Cooper-Clarke started the proceedings, carrying a pink plastic bag which contained all of his props — books of poems, cans of lager, and a framed photograph of Sir John Betjeman. For half an hour the Salford bard treated the audience to his rapid-fire recitations concerning ball-room dancers, fitness freaks, members of the 'dirty raincoat brigade', and other regular characters of everyday life, some of them raising more laughs than many stand-up comics would ever dream of. His final poem, "Beasley Street," was a more serious look at life in the seedier parts of Manchester, but still contained a cynical humour which earned him the best response I can recall for a support act.
Next came the low point of the evening, namely Richard Hell and the Voidoids. They blasted their way through a set of uninspiring songs, and only succeeded in moving most of the audience into the bar. It must be a hard job to following John Cooper-Clarke every night, but they really did nothing like deserved more than a small ripple of applause.
When Elvis and his band finally appeared they went straight into a powerful version of "Good Squad," played at a pace which continued throughout the set, only relenting for the reggae-flavoured "Watching the Detectives," and "Party Girl" from the new album. This song, which didn't impress me too much on the album, appears to be tailor made for live performance, and its climactic ending was a highlight of the show.
The lighting for most of the time was kept simple, but it changed dramatically for "Lipstick Vogue." A row of dazzling blue lights behind the drums silhouetted the band while two red spotlights picked out Elvis, a display that blended well with the energy of the music.
Surprisingly, there were no songs from My Aim is True, the album that established his reputation, but nevertheless the net was well constructed, reaching a climax with "Pump it up," followed by encores of "Chelsea" and "Radio Radio." As on the new album, Steve Naive's keyboards were well to the front in the sound, with Pete Thomas and Bruce Thomas providing the solid rhythmic foundations.
If the audience were pleased with the performance then the feeling was mutual. The atmosphere backstage was very relaxed, with only a few assorted Voidoids looking fed up with the whole affair. Elvis was kept busy signing autographs and seemed to have enjoyed the evening.
"Yeah, it was a good gig, a very good one, but it was too fucking hot for my liking. We don't normally enjoy playing at universities, and we try to avoid them, but we make sure that the public can get tickets, not just the students. It was okay tonight though, some of each."
It's a pity "Alison" didn't turn up but it was a good gig anyway.