Is this strange looking fellow with a crew cut the next rock 'n' roll sensation? Certainly Elvis Costello does not visually fit the rock stereotype. Nor does his music seem to go with the mainstream. This is not to say that songs like "Alison" or "Less Than Zero" could not be hit singles. They should be!! They're full of great hook lines and, like Costello's songs in general, have a sincerity that makes them essential.
What sets Elvis Costello apart is more than just his bizarre character. Costello challenges his audience to think, something most artists of the seventies seem incapable of doing. His music has the simple directness that makes rock 'n' roll such an effective medium. But along with this challenge he serves up poignant social criticism.
All his songs express a critical eye. In the two sets he performed at Bunky's this eye was especially apparent in the songs "Night Rally," "Watching The Detectives," and "Less Than Zero." Yes! Elvis Costello is angry, as the perfectly ironic song "I'm Not Angry" points out. The current condition in England is well-stated by the anger in much of the new music coining out of that country. With Costello this anger goes beyond the campiness of the punk stance.
But Elvis Costello gives us even more. He writes great rock 'n' roll songs. "Alison" is a perfect pop ballad and he sounds entirely sincere when he sings the line, "My aim is true." Yet, in the same song he has told us that, "I'm not going to get too sentimental," when of course the irony is that's exactly what he's doing.
The arrangements of the material were enriched by his three-piece backing band, The Attractions (not the Mutations — sorry, folks!). The members are drummer Pete Thomas, bassist Bruce Thomas, and Steve Young on keyboards. The old Vox Continental organ that Young plays gives the band the Sixties sound, typified in his organ intro on "Lipstick Vogue." But at times the organ gives the band a Fifties sound as on "Mystery Dance."
A lot of new material was featured at this concert. One new song, "You Belong To Me," rocked out in a crazy style like The Who's "My Generation." The best of the new songs, "The Beat," sounds like their most ambitious effort yet. Mixed with these new songs were other favorites like "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes."
During "Watching The Detectives," Costello gave the audience one of his frozen stares. Between these cold as ice stares and the spastic motions he makes on stage, Costello is convincingly weird. This style of presentation and his often angry message all contribute to his uniqueness.
Elvis Costello wants to shake you up. Maybe wake you up. An art that challenges, lets you walk away with more. More than the pleasure of, say, a great rock song. This is Elvis Costello's aim. He gives you rock 'n' roll at its finest and something to think over. His aim is true.