Elvis Costello headlined a superb concert Friday night at the Uptown Theater for a raving, sellout crowd of 1,780, proving in the process that the punk movement just might save rock 'n' roll from its greedy self.
A major indication of Costello's confidence was use of The Rubinoos, a fascinating quartet from Berkeley, Calif., as the warmup act. But in spite of The Rubinoos, Costello was the obvious attraction, and there was no doubt that he delivered. He is making a 55-city tour in support of his third album, Armed Forces.
Costello has become the most popular act of the New Wave rockers, which began sweeping the clutter from rock a few years back. Their idea was to simplify things, remove rock's growing dependence on grandiose clutter, and sharpen its musical focus.
Some of them took things a little too far — punks like the Sex Pistols even rejected musical competence — but the best of them have the advantage of a completely fresh approach.
Costello has emerged as the performer best prepared to take advantage of the situation.
Friday, he began with two of the best tunes from the new album, "Accidents Will Happen" and "Goon Squad," and spent the rest of a 75 minute set punching out a heady selection of new and old material.
Some, like "Opportunity," have yet to be recorded, and a select few were played with less than his usual totally pulsating intensity.
His excellent band, the Attractions, provided an ideal setting for his angry songs. Organist Steve Naive dominated the melodies (with help from Costello's own primitive guitar styling), but they'd have both been lost without the lightning sharp rhythm section of drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Bruce Thomas.
The best selections in a night of standouts were "Pump It Up," "Watching the Detectives" and loudly demanded encores of "Radio, Radio" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
The spare lighting was quite effective, especially the occasional use of about eight horizontal white beams flashing across the stage.
The Rubinoos opened the concert with charming and irrepressible energy. The young quartet's choice of material was much lighter in mood than Costello's — it included such oldies as "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "I Think We're Alone Now" — but each song was performed with an intensity equal to Costello's.
Two negative factors about the Uptown Theater detracted from the concert. First, one balcony stairway was dangerously unlighted, and second, according to some concertgoers, a few of the security people were rough in removing patrons who apparently lit matches in the wrong place.