Melody Maker, January 16, 1982

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Orchestral manoeuvres

Elvis Costello & The Attractions / Royal Albert Hall, London

Allan Jones

Intimidating, stiffly impersonal, the Albert Hall is hardly suitable for the kind of intimate intercourse between musician and audience that generates great rock 'n' roll.

Still, it was a clear measure of the coherent weight of Costello's repertoire that he could present such a fresh programme of songs.

Displaying a perfect sense of the shape and momentum of a set, Elvis is always capable of catching his audience on the wrong foot with the unexpected inclusion of apparently discarded favourites. So, "Secondary Modern" and "Green Shirt" dove-tailed beautifully into the more recently familiar songs from Almost Blue, set up the audience for the killer punches of "Clowntime Is Over" and "Big Sister's Clothes."

There were new songs, too: the stately, midnight ballad "Kid About It," the accusing "Shabby Doll" and the sultry, candid drama of "Long Honeymoon."

If this first half failed to ignite the senses with the power of the Rainbow performance last month, it was still enough to remind us that Costello's amassed one of the most potent repertoires available to any current songwriter.

Despite the subsequent admission that he was "absolutely speechless with fear," it was certainly his composure that held band and orchestra together through the tricky opening moments of the show's second half, when the Attractions and special guest John McFee were joined by the full weight of the Royal Philharmonic.

Obviously, this flirtation with the massed strings of the RPO could've turned into a messy and expensive indulgence; but as he proved with his recent Nashville excursion, Costello has the wit and determination to turn a personal conceit into an artistic triumph. Occasionally gushing, sometimes a little too florrid, Robert Kirby's arrangements mostly provided a richly conceived backdrop for Elvis' arresting passion.

Carving away with an epic momentum, they lifted "New Lace Sleeves" to a grand new plateau, added an aching poignancy to the classic country ballads from Almost Blue and fresh drama to "Watching The Detectives" and the painfully forlorn reading of "Just A Memory."

Clearly relishing the lush support of the orchestra, Costello's voice raided every emotional avenue on its way to the heart. Prefaced by nervously swirling strings, a new song called "Town Crier" exhausted the Kleenex supply and only an abrupt ending saved Sheehan's syrup from an early shower.

Listening to the tempered anguish of "Alison" and "I'm Your Toy" was like coming to grips with a fistful of tears, while the final flourish of "What's So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding" brought a lump the size of Belgium to the old throat.

I could have danced all night.

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Photo by Tom Sheehan.

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Melody Maker, January 16, 1982

Allan Jones reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with John McFee and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Thursday, January 7, 1982, Royal Albert Hall, London, England.

Allan Jones corrects reporting in the previous issue about the Nashville show and reports on attendees of the London show.


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Photos by Tom Sheehan.

El at the Opry

Allan Jones

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Pardon our blushes, but contrary to last week's FF story about Elvis Costello not playing Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, we'd now like to confirm that the Greatest Living Englishman did appear at the aforesaid venue on January 3.

A certain Mr Jake Riviera, representing the GLE, first brought this to our attention, then a letter arrived from an Atlanta-based correspondent named Tony Paris. Tony actually witnessed the performance and his report agrees with Riviera's claim that the show was virtually sold out.

And this despite the biased indifference of the American radio network, which so far has given something of a cold shoulder to Almost Blue.

The day after the Opry concert, Paris tried to track down a copy of Almost Blue in Conway Twitty's Twitty Bird Record Store on Music Row. Paris was alarmed to discover that Nashville's largest C&W record shop didn't have the LP in stock. The store manager wasn't even aware that Costello had released a country album, hadn't even heard that Elvis had played the Grand Ole Opry.

So much for the Yanks. Back in London, El was wowing them at the RAH (see review on page 25). Among the chaps who turned out, we ran into Anthony More, Mr and Mrs Chris Difford, Mr and Mrs Sparko, up from Canvey, former Madness manager, Kellogs (now in charge of P. Hewitt's up and coming faves, TV21). Maddie bassist Bedders, most of the UK Wing of the Confederate Air Force, including Bobby Irwin, Brendon, Andrew Lauder, Peter Barnes, Nick and Carlene, Paul Carrack, Martin Belmont and back at last from New York, Graham Parker. (We were beginning to think he'd gone a bit Jock Ewing and got himself lost in the Interior.)

Confirming his status in the ligging stakes, Bob Geldof re-appeared, having last been sighted at El's Christmas Show in Finsbury Park.

Fresh from the set of Alan Parker's movie of The Wall, Geldof was in reassuringly high spirits. We asked him when we might wrap our hearing aids around the next Rats' LP.

"After we got another hit single," he replied. "And after the comprehensive flop of the last one, it might be sometime."

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