Melody Maker, December 6, 1986

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Melody Maker


Greatest show on earth

Elvis Costello And The Attractions / Royalty Theatre, London

Allan Jones

Oh, I just don't know where to begin. Nearly nine hours of music, something like 100 songs, some great jokes, lots of laughs, a few tears, one brawl, a soft-shoe shuffle and The Attractions sounding lean, handsome and vicious, back to their best fighting weight, unencumbered by shrieking backing vocalists and flabby horns, recalling their best scorched earth performances of the late Seventies.

I mean it: witnessing Costello over the first three nights of his marathon residency at the Royalty was like watching the best part of the last 10 tumultuous years of my life flashing in front of my eyes. These shows might nave been designed as a kind of informal musical autobiography, a celebration of Costello's unassailable position as the pre-eminent songwriter of the last decade, with songs plucked from every period of his turbulent career, but they also revealed the extent to which his music has documented the disasters and triumphs of lives other than his own.

Costello filled these evenings with surprise. Everywhere you turned, there was another startling example of his continuing excellence and for every recognised, popular classic like "Clubland" or "Oliver's Army," there was something like "Big Tears" to remind you that even Costello's flipsides are more durable than the entire repertoires of other artists. And who, for instance, would have predicted that the second, solo, show would have been such a brilliant mix of slapstick, satire, terrific songs and sheer fall-about fun? And did anyone expect the Spinning Songbook extravaganza on Tuesday to be quite so hilariously over-the-top, so exquisitely garish?

Certainly, we were seeing sides of Costello's complex personality that had never before been so publicly exposed. Simply, Costello seemed like a man who's finally come to terms with the perverse impulses that in the past threatened to engulf him. Demons appear to have been exorcised. Even on the opening night, when Elvis and The Attractions blazed through a Greatest Hits spectacular, the splenetic fury of his performance was unaffected by the sheer malignancy that used to so dramatically disfigure these songs. Costello can still sound uncommonly angry, but he has outgrown the spitefullness of yore.

From such an overwhelming catalogue of incident, everyone will claim their own favourite memories. Mine are varied and extensive: a devastatingly poignant "Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head" on the opening night; the acoustic version of "Tokyo Storm Warning" — "a thug's eye view of the world" punctuated by droll, acidic commentaries; Cait and Elvis duetting briefly on "Wild Mountain Thyme"; the extensively re-written versions of "American Without Tears" and "The Deportees Club," the latter now a heartstopping ballad; the gut wrenching solo and group versions of "I Want You"; Costello's customised reading of the Psychedelic Furs' "Pretty In Pink" and The Attractions brutal overhaul of Prince's "Pop Life"; Elvis bursting into a snatch of Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said" during an unexpected revival of the venerable "Radio Sweetheart"; a harrowing "Riot Act" and a mind-bendingly epic "Clowntime Is Over"; the great Nick Lowe himself duetting with EC on "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding" and then frugging wildly in the go-go cage as The Attractions brought the house down with a raucous "Twist And Shout" at the end of the Spinning Songbook night; the apocalyptic aural carnage of "Poor Napoleon" / "Instant Karma"; and, perhaps most touchingly of all, the heartfelt version of John Lennon's "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" that was fitted into "New Amsterdam" and which had my wife in tears.

For sure, these shows will be a hard act to follow. But come January, I'll be at the Albert Hall, watching these people proving again that they are simply beyond compare.

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Melody Maker, December 6, 1986

Allan Jones reports on Elvis Costello's Royalty Theatre concerts, November 23, 24, and 25, 1986, London, England.


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Photo by Keith Morris.
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1986-12-06 Melody Maker cover.jpg


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