I remember Elvis
November 30, 1977. Bunky's. Elvis Costello. Two beers and no dope. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
The first album, My Aim is True, had been out only a few weeks. But the word was already out on the latest and greatest of them all.
But you couldn't tell by looking at him, for without fanfare he walked on stage head bowed, in his sport jacket, tie, and horn-rimmed glasses, and except for the guitar he looked every bit the computer programmer he was just a few short months before.
His first song was a rather subdued "Welcome to the Working Week," but the next was everybody's favorite, "Red Shoes," and from that point on each song conveyed the rawest gut passion. I am Elvis Costello, he was saying. This is the truth.
It was a religious experience. Whether Elvis stood, talked, or sang, it didn't matter for some of us. We jumped up screaming back at him whatever he did. Others sat quietly, not knowing how to react. Someone in the back made the fatal mistake of talking.
"Hey, you back there, talking to the person next to you. I see you!" His hand left the guitar and made a slicing motion in the air that cut the music off dead. His burning stare angrily riveted the audience's attention on the poor wretch who had dared to arouse the wrath of the gods.
"When I go to see someone I go to have a good time, not to talk!" The packed house was silent and cold as the November night. What would this crazed genius do next?
He walked over to the front of the stage and took another drink from an admirer.
"You know who I play for?" he asked, spitting out the words. "I play for you, and you, and you, and you," he answered, pointing to his most vocal supporters. At least he pointed in my direction.
And then another magical wave of the hand and the music was on again at the same never-before-reached level of intensity — an intensity that kept building throughout both shows. His three backup musicians, The Attractions, seemed to be swept around by a magnetic field that changed whenever he moved. Elvis' nervous energy kept him pacing back and forth across the stage; now and then he would stop and madly stare out into the audience, transfixed by some unspoken thought, perhaps an unpleasant memory from the not-too-distant days when he was confronting his famous blacklist of record business people who had refused to give his awesome talent a chance.
But those days were over. He knew it. We knew it. And we knew that the words he sang and the strange way in which he sang them would stay with us long after he unplugged his guitar. For this was no fun rock show, no smooth presentation, no pretty music. The truth hurts. When he sang "Waiting For the End of the World" and shrieked "dear Lord!" at the end of each chorus, it was the end of the world. When he sang the line in "Less Than Zero" about British Nazi spokesman Oswald Mosley "with the swastika tattoo," he raised his spidery hands to his forehead and carved out a swastika that almost made my forehead bleed.
The second show began with a comic introduction from Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen and ended with the gripping "Watching the Detectives," and a more powerful finish would have been impossible. Backed by a vicious reggae beat and fiery organ line, the new and future King of Rock 'N' Roll led the song with a drunken fury. In the middle of it he walked back to the band and once more waved his hand. The music immediately dropped 50 decibels and Elvis returned to the microphone, fingers clenched tightly around the mouthpiece.
"I've been to California, and I've seen the police," he began, in a tone that conveyed pure fright.
"And I've been to Texas, and I've seen the police. I've been to Oklahoma, Indiana, Illinois, and I've seen the police there, too. And now I've been to Madison, Wisconsin, and I've seen the police.
"And you know what?" he asked his spellbound listeners.
"They all wear guns!"
In a split second the hands jumped from the microphone to guitar and the music kicked back up again while he sang "Watching the Detectives" over and over again, his face and body contorted into a figure wracked in pain, until the song ended and he walked off the stage as quietly and unaffectedly as he walked on, except this time everyone was on their feet screaming "Elvis!"
There could be no encore.
Illustration by Dana Derber.
This Year's Model
Elvis Costello. This man continues to amaze me. Though I find him to be an enigmatic character, his songs are engaging and at their most basic they are great rock.
The immediate difference between This Year's Model, and last year's My Aim Is True, is the contribution made by backing band, The Attractions. The sound of that Farfisa organ dominates throughout the album. But it is Costello's songwriting that continues to intrigue me.
After writing songs like "Less Than Zero," "Watching the Detectives," "Alison," and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" in the previous year, it seemed that the followup album could only be disappointing. Wrong! The songs are all strong from start to finish.
On first impression, "The Beat" sounds like it's destined to be a classic. In all its simplicity, the irresistible allure of the Farfisa organ, the perfect minimal drumming, the hook line of the title, "The Beat" is a sure winner.
The following song, "Pump It Up," sounds like Question Mark and the Mysterians backing Bob Dylan on "Subterranean Homesick Blues. " In contrast, "Little Triggers" is a slow ballad that is introduced by an acoustic piano line that continues throughout the song.
"You Belong to Me" rocks out the first side and sounds similar to the Rolling Stones' "Last Time" in the beginning of the song, and toward the end it has a bubble down bass line that was so memorable from "19th Nervous Breakdown." Not to get carried away with playing "spot the riff," but the similarities to the great songs of the Sixties provides much of the backbone to these arrangements.
"Hand in Hand" opens the second side with a strange reversed echo to the title and is filled with those subtle little details like the vibrato guitar chords that make these songs appealing. "Lipstick Vogue" matches Costello's angry vocals with a church organ sound over rampaging drums. The drumming on this is excellent and it drives the song.
While the arrangements of the songs are filled with all the power of great rock from an earlier era, Costello's lyrics go after his contemporary mentors. On "Lipstick Vogue" he chastizes the "vanity factory" mentality, while on "Radio, Radio" he is more than willing to "Bite the hand that feeds," in reference to the conservative and tyrannical hold of Top 40 radio. Import copies of this album substitute "Radio, Radio" with "Night Rally," a haunting song about the British Fascist party.
Why waste your time on the mindless re-hashed boogie music when you can have This Year's Model?
You would have a hard time trying to assemble a stranger bunch of characters than is on the cover of the Stiffs' live album. Ian Dury, Wreckless Eric, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Larry Wallis have formed the nucleus of the Stiff label in the past year.
This recording was made when these five, along with various backing musicians, toured England. Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury perform two songs each, while Larry Wallis is joined by Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe on his version of "Police Car."
The album opens with Nick Lowe doing "I Knew the Bride," a song he wrote for Dave Edmunds' Get It lp. This rockabilly styled tune features Edmunds on guitar and shows the diversity of Lowe's songwriting abilities. Lowe and Co. follow with the previously un-recorded "Let's Eat."
A pleasant surprise is Elvis Costello and The Attractions doing a Burt Bacharach tune, "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself." The live version of Costello's "Miracle Man" included here is not as good as that on the "B" side of the single release of "Alison" (CBS 3-10641).
The entire lineup of Stiffs joins in on Ian Dury's "Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll" (an existential motto for the blank generation??) to finish out the record. This collection only serves as a sampler to the varied styles of these musicians and is recommended for the less adventurous. The individual recordings of Dury, Lowe, and Costello are better than this live set.
Madcity Music Sheet, Supplement No. 1, April 10, 1978
James Bessman recalls Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Tuesday, November 29, 1977, Bunky's, Madison, WI.
Gary Radloff profiles EC ahead of his concert with The Attractions and opening acts Mink DeVille and Nick Lowe, Thursday, April 20, 1978, Orpheum Theatre, Madison, WI.
Gary Radloff reviews This Year's Model, Pure Pop For Now People, and Live Stiffs.
When word had reached us that Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Mink DeVille, and Nick Lowe with Rockpile were going to be at the Orpheum Theater April 20th, we had to pinch ourselves to believe it was true. These are, without a doubt, three of the most exciting and important acts to arise in the past two years. Something special was called for, and this Special Supplementary Issue of the Madcity Music Sheet was put out simply because we are fans.
The past couple of years have seen so much happening in the music world that it's hard to get a perspective on it all. Yet, it is safe to say there is something resembling a rock 'n' roll renaissance that has been breaking forth from two urban centers, New York City and London. The originators or groundbreakers can be traced back to the early seventies and we'll avoid the historical debate on whose "scene" broke first.
Of these three acts, all were a part of the new music that was coming out. Mink DeVille was a part of the New York scene and one of the original bands at CBGB's. While Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and their association with the Stiff record label were major music forces out of London.
A few years ago the independent Stiff label was formed by Jake Riviera (now Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe's manager) along with Dave Robinson (who handles Graham Parker and the Rumour). The label benefited from a variety of unique marketing and promotional tactics that brought it immediate attention. More importantly it was pushing new and interesting acts like Costello, Lowe, and one of the original Punk bands, The Damned.
A great deal of credit must go to Jake Riviera, and his desire to prove that one did not need the help of the major record companies to get this new music out to the public. By the example set by Stiff, independent record companies began to spring up rapidly. Eventually the so-called New Wave steamrolled its way into recognition. It is too simple a view to give complete credit to the Stiff label for the coming of the New Wave, but they certainly helped open the doors.
Of the multitude of new bands coming from England in this short period of time, three have made the greatest impact to date. These three are Graham Parker and the Rumour, (the late) Sex Pistols, and Elvis Costello. (As a producer of two out of the three Nick Lowe deserves inclusion, and as a recording artist his day is rapidly approaching).
Nick Lowe had a helping hand in much of the new' music. Along with his recordings on Stiff,' he produced the Damned's first album, and even earlier was involved with producing Graham Parker and the Rumour. Lowe was well known in England for his involvement with the Brinsley Schwarz Band as lead singer and bassist. He is touring with Rockpile, which will likely include the legendary Dave Edmunds on guitar.
Last year's most exciting album had to be Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True. He of all the people lumped under the over-used, catch-all title "New Wave" appears to have the best chance of breaking into what often seems a solid block of ice.... the commercial pop/rock market, Hopefully this will happen with the rather appropriately titled, This Year's Model album. If he does not transcend a large cult following there are more than a few bands on the fringes with a shot at the top. Let's hope they all begin to get the larger recognition they deserve.
Along with the Patti Smith Group, Television, the Ramones. Blondie and the Talking Heads, Mink Deville are among the best of the New York bands.
Their first album, Cabretta (Capitol ST 11631) was produced by Jack Nitzsche, who's association with Phil Spector in the sixties, and whose mutual interest in the Spector sound, brought him together with this band. The album has good doses of both R&B and Rock 'n' Roll music with a Sixties sound. But the link with this earlier music comes from their solid original material. Mink Deville is a band of great potential and their next recording will be of interest.
Hopefully this much too brief survey of events behind these three coming bands was not too pretentious. Our desire was merely to provide a bit of background for what should be a most exciting evening of music. Anyway it sure beats the hell out of John Denver at the Coliseum the same night.
Pure Pop For Now People
Listening to the new Nick Lowe album is fun. This record has none of the philosophic rubbish the cosmic muffins of rock have been spewing out in the past. Preferably, it is a collection of great pop songs that highlights Lowe's humorous view of life.
Lowe is a master craftsman at writing pop melodies. After only one listening you'll find yourself singing these tunes as you stroll the streets. Be forewarned, though, that singing the chorus line of "Marie Provost" in public will draw strange looks: "She was a winner, that became a doggie's dinner."... You see, it's the story of a Hollywood starlet's decline that ended in a drug overdose — and ah....er, well....ah, her little dachshund's hunger got the best of him in the two weeks before the authorities discover her body... Anyway why don't you sing a different Nick Lowe song, they are all great!
The opening song, "So It Goes," has an irresistible hook line, with a guitar solo that is pure Sixties pop styled. "Heart of the City" was the first single released on the Stiff label and is a high paced rocker. In contrast is "Tonight," a ballad of teenage romance that competes with Bruce Springsteen for its "West Side Story" imagery.
The collaborative genius of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds stands out on "Little Hitler." This song features the distinctive vocal wall of sound Edmunds employs on his recordings. (With all due respect to Phil Spector and Brian Wilson.) "They Call It Rock" has all the energy the title implies, and its source is Edmunds guitar along with Rockpile.
Nick Lowe's bizarre sense of humor comes out again on "Nutted By Reality." This is the story of the unfortunate castrated Castro with equally absurd Latin rhythm backing. "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass" seems like only a mild perversion in comparison. It was co-written by bassist Andrew Bodnar and drummer Steve Goulding, of The Rumour.
Along with Lowe's humor and unequaled pop sensibility comes a bit of cynicism. The song "Music For Money" indicates his view of many current rockers. In contrast, the inclusion of the tribute to British pop favorites the Bay City Rollers on "Roller Show" is a bit ironic. A similar song by Lowe titled "Bay City Rollers We Love You" was a number one hit in Japan — but then it's all in good fun, isn't it Nick?'
Cover and page scan.