Hours before Duncan Patric McManus took the stage they were beginning to twist around the Hard Rock Cafe like a fat contented dragon.
They had come from throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts to see him and spend a few hours in line with comrades in fanaticism just to prolong the event.
So, surrounded by the factories and warehouses of West Hartford's industrial area, they stood placidly in line trading anecdotes about him, wearing jackets that clinked amiably, and sending friendly wisps of smoke into the warm night air.
But an Elvis Costello concert, in Connecticut, is as rare as a Squonk's hair, though somewhat easier to find.
Looking like Woody Allen in neurosis, or a spastic Buddy Holly, Costello and The Main Attractions tore through a twenty song set, including two encores, in a dignified, subtly violent manner in keeping with his Armed Forces tour.
Only a smattering of fans turned out for his show in late 1977 at Toad's Place, a follow up tour date after the release of My Aim Is True, but the April 11 concert packed the converted warehouse with wall to wall flesh.
Very few punks were in the crowd, although many middle class punk posers wore their Elvis style thinly lapelled sportcoats and inch wide ties.
Though the floor was a shallow sea of spilled Miller (nothing like a concert hall with a good, fast bar), they jumped and gyrated to his special kind of warm vilification. It was a fine, lively, professional show, which is a rarity for Elvis. Costello has a reputation as sort of a switchblade-carrying Puck who plays 40 minute sets, launches a stream of four-letter greetings, and stalks off stage never to return, at least not for an encore.
Ably backed by The Main Attractions, he swept through his hits and better songs (like "The Beat" and "This Year's Girl" from This Year's Model and "Accidents Will Happen" from the newest) only pausing for the barest of introductions and to apologize for being late. ("We really have been stuck in traffic. Honest.")
A heavily reggae version of "The Detectives," preceded by the hypnotic "Alison," were both typical of the qualities that make Costello significant as a performer.
Knock-kneed and sliding across the stage on wingtips, his memorable voice pushed out each song with a boldness that seems to come from deep down inner torment and insecurity. Each of his songs seem to portray another subtly different side of the tormented soul of the 70s.
Costello proved himself on guitar as well. It's not that he's particularly good, but he has perfect timing and knows exactly where and when to place each chord and slow, tasty rift.
He was forced to do off his green plaid sportcoat and thin red tie half-way into the set to help keep the sweat, cascading from everyone on stage, from flowing. He sang "Green Shirt," his own green sweat-shirt stuck to his skinny frame, bathed in eerie greens and reds while The Main Attractions remained at the rear of the stage hidden amidst a pattern of weirdly criss-crossing yellow and blue beams.
Despite his professionalism, talent, and slightly twisted personality exhibited in the precision with which the concert was delivered, I left feeling that I had seen a cartoon character. There's something not quite real, or believable, about Costello. Or perhaps he's so real that, in the 70s, he seems non-existant. He is a piece of living surrealism. He can't quite be reached and wants it that way.