"I'm in Elvis Costello heaven," one young woman exclaimed during Costello's performance for about 650 fanatics at the Centre Stage Wednesday night, "and it's great!"
Costello, a slight, 22 year old British songwriter, singer and guitarist, roused them with a defiantly earthy style of rock that was pretty lean, very mean and extremely catchy. He and his trio, the Attractions, already the "punk" darlings of timid FM stations, may be among the bands to outlive the current fad called New Wave.
Costello wore something resembling a suit, weird enough in rock, but his looked like a 1963 Robert Hall model (remember iridescent sharkskin?). Add black horn rimmed glasses and closely cropped hair and he echoed the nerd-next-door look of the late Buddy Holly.
But Costello has managed to come up with something new by adding his distinctive lyrics to the simplest roots of rock. The set was short (less than an hour with two encores), yet even the 45 minute wait between acts was forgiven once the group started playing.
With Steve Naive piping out organ chords reminiscent of Question Mark & the Mysterians on "Watching the Detectives," Costello told the tragic tale of a young lady hopelessly addicted to television private eye shows. That song, "Miracle Man" and "Less Than Zero" were highlights from his first album, My Aim Is True, and "Radio, Radio" stood out among a number of unreleased tunes.
A late start and bad sound interfered with his first Milwaukee visit, a chaotic night at the Electric Ballroom just two months ago, but that show cost only a buck. and you got a dime sized button of his beaky face in the bargain. Was he already worth Wednesday's $7.50 ticket?
The Centre Stage helped him out. The 2nd St. club has been through many incarnations, but it sounded ideal as a small rock hall and, with a little attention the lights might do more than blink on and off.
Willie (Loco) Alexander's coy singing failed to connect with the crowd in the warm-up slot, but his Boom Boom Band guitarist, Billy Loosigian, drew applause. Loosigian echoed British guitar star Jeff Beck, in both looks and with a full blend of chords and melodic leads.
Unless Alexander somehow zooms to the top, however, I think Loosigian will soon be getting many invitations to join bands of far higher calibre.