Music Man, March 1978

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Elvis didn't wear red shoes, but...

Tom Farnsworth, Jr.

The second show at Alumnae Hall Sunday night was jammed far past capacity, the heat was prostrating, stifling; most of the twenty-five or so Music Man party arrived around 9:15, in time to hear half of the first concert including a raw rendition of the already intense "Blame It On Cain" of the first show and get fine seats, but also in time to stand or be propped in a tight, hot crowd for over an hour. Being given the nod at 10:30 we were animalistically funnelled through one door soon to be assaulted by Willie "Loco" Alexander and the Boom Boom Band. I'll dispense with him quickly (nothing is too soon or too little) with some quotes. As Music Man staffer Patty Andrews put it so aptly and succinctly: "He's got all the moves down, but he hasn't a bit of passion in his "music". That's a little euphemistic though it is true. Steve Martin of the Baboons had this to say: "I want two out of my four dollars back. and I'm ashamed that Brown University would bring him here." He is derivative of (highly derivative of in noise quality) Patty Smith, Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison and the Ramones. His guitarist is very much the Jeff Beck of 1966-67 both stylistically and in looks. So what. So this amounts to snearingly obscene, insulting, cacophonous racket. I said that.

Now to the meat. And, the motion. This is the first concert I've been up for, other than the Kinks, since Led Zeppelin in March of 1973 at Madison Square. It's really the first I've been to since then. almost. Anyway I wanted to come away from that concert last night and be ecstatic. The album sends me into shivers of bliss all the time. Well I can't go that far. The drummer, however, is more of a knockout in person. He attacks his drums not savagely, but with grace. The beats that come forth are savage and each is one that you can see, hear, feel, touch, and smell.

Elvis pretty much alternated new songs and established songs. One new standout, destined to be nothing just like all the other fine songs on the LP, is "Livin' in Paradise." It's a song with a cliched theme, the one about physical brutes after the 90-pounder's girl. The cliched premise is banished quickly when Elvis sings cynically about physical jerks, and with such lines as: "I don't want to be your lover, I just want to be your victim." I believe he followed this with "Less than Zero," a version with completely new USA lyrics for his transatlantic friends. The other two real highlights were "Red Shoes" receiving standout vocal and percussive treatment, and "Watching the Detectives" replete with absolutely wicked guitar and evil eyes from Elvis. Many times Elvis appears like a shifty eyed phantom of the opera. Freezing the audience with frozen looks and barbed, obscene comments. As the night progressed it appeared that he was having difficulty suppressing occasional and more frequent smiles. The thing that most captivates me about the album besides the virtuoso guitar playing and fine drumming is his eye and ear for incongruous mixed metaphors, his totally ironic lines as when he screams "I'm not Angry" and you know that he's the angriest little cynic alive. Unfortunately, when performing "I'm not Angry" last night he did not look or sound to be angry at all. Not only did this number lack his vocal force, but Elvis chose not to do that frenzied Chuck Berry solo that goes farther than Chuck ever wanted to go. In fact, he only did one minor solo all night. If his drummer weren't so dynamic, Elvis could never have gotten away with the luxury of chording all night and being the only guitarist. "Mystery Dance" and "Waiting for the End of the World" were the only other songs he did from the album. He prefaced "Mystery Dance" by asking us if that (applause) was the best we could do. He urged us angrily to wake up. Both songs seemed a little tired, and a little rushed.

A large part of the Elvis Costello appeal may be that he is so enigmatic. I can understand why he doesn't want to talk to media. He's said it all in his music, what more is there to say. By declining to see any press, including Music Man, except for one Jan Spino in our party who when driving 295 with a couple of Baboons Sunday came face to face, (actually Carl Eggert did the face to facing while Jan hung out the window at 65 to grab a load of Elvis buttons), Elvis reinforced the mystery. He reinforced it on stage as well. I couldn't say whether he was comfortable or uncomfortable, glad to be there or not (though I think not), nervous or crazy. The enigma he presents, inscrutable, is Elvis the master performer. I do know his voice was great. I only wish I could be as unequivocal about his guitar playing but he didn't give the chance.

His album is certainly one of last year's three or four best. The concert was good rock and roll, a chance to affirm through visual perception that the little man from outside London (outside anywhere) in a 1971 Robert Hall suit does exist, can rock and roll, and doesn't care.


The Music Man, March 1978

Tom Farnsworth, Jr. reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions and Willie Alexander, Sunday, February 26, 1978, Alumnae Hall, Brown University, Providence, RI.


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Page scans.

Photos by Alyce Barr.
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Photos by Alyce Barr.


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