Oh I wish you could see / Quite how much you could mean to me / You worthless thing — Elvis Costello
Worcester, Mass. — If you follow the world of pop/rock round 'n round, it'll break your heart and your wallet. What with the price of the new LP, the concert ticket, the official tour T-shirt, and hours spent sitting, waiting for your favorite's new video to come through the rotation again, the price can be burdensome indeed.
The past week saw three acts pass through the area that have pushed the pop legions to and fro, throwing trends and expectations out the window, while building semi-legendary status in rock 'n roll, each in its own way.
Seven years ago, Elvis Costello and the Attractions first U.S. shows at the Paradise Club in Boston were the stuff legends are made of. There was no in-between song patter, except Elvis once berating the audience for not dancing. ("Got no legs, eh?") The Attractions, his backup band, ripped through songs like "Welcome To The Working Week," and "Blame It On Cane," with boisterous vengeance that defined the now useless term "new wave." At the end of the night, the crowd was chanting "Elvis! Elvis!" an eerie echo of deceased kings. Elvis and bandmates were refused admittance to a club in Boston later that night because nobody knew who they were.
Last Tuesday, Elvis Costello practically filled the Worcester Centrum with fans, many of whom wouldn't recognize the hard-edged sound that filled the Paradise years back. Things have stretched out, from the size of the audience, to Costello's more soulful vocal approach, to his of late, lugubrious lyrics.
The high points of Elvis' show Tuesday were brought on by the reliance on early material. The first three numbers, "Green Shirt," "Lipstick Vogue," and "Watching The Detectives," came off of his first two LPs. The fourth song, "The Only Flame In Town," sung as a duet with Daryl Hall on the new LP, brought out the more soulful element Costello has been flirting with. Elvis' voice may sound interesting, but the live performance of practically the whole new LP bore out the truth of the LP, Goodbye Cruel World, (Columbia); throw away the whole first side.
"Home Truth" sounds introspectively pedantic, something Costello's most wordy lyrics have never been before. (Example: "Is it my shirt or my toothpaste / That is whiter than white?") "Room With No Number," is National Enquirer stuff without the names. It's a good thing Elvis framed most of the newer compositions around older, harder-driving songs like "Mystery Dance," because it showed the problematic dichotomy of loving American R 'n B, Cole Porter, and Gershwin, but being able to play rock 'n roll better.
Maybe in some cocktail lounge of the future we'll be able to hear the resolution of the dilemma, and Elvis is anything but stagnant in his changes from LP to LP, when the patrons will again cry out Elvis! Elvis! With the inclusion of the Byrds' "So You Wanna Be A Rock 'N Roll Star," and "Marie's the Name" (Of His Latest Flame,) once sung by another Elvis, into his sets, Costello is clearly aimed for the pantheon of rock heros. But at the moment he seems content to turn out three bad ballads for every great single like "Peace In Our Time." So who's complaining?
The guy at the bar who's out for a good time. Nick Lowe, the opener for Costello, should be. The man should be famous, his face plastered all over Red Square. He should be producing Elvis Costello like he did in the old days, fleshing out LPs like This Years Model, and Get Happy! (Elvis' best foray into R 'n B, not last year's Punch The Clock.)
Nick Lowe, the Godfather of New Wave. That's right. His earlier band, Brinsley Schwarz, played country-rock before it became popular, and with a verve that the Eagles couldn't touch. His various incarnations as the Tartan Horde (which produced "Bay City Rollers We Love You," a satirical, loving look at the that band, went to Number 1 in Japan, where they didn't get the joke), and Alberto y Los Trios Paranoias, are the stuff musical legends are made of.
Lowe was clearly an individual in the '70s lumpen world of punk rock, working with, and making famous similar individuals, producing the first few LPs by Elvis, Graham Parker, the first single by the Pretenders, and also the first LP by one of the early punk bands, The Damned. His assessment of the Sex Pistols, "It didn't matter if they could or couldn't play," was a statement that summed up the whole era.
Lowe's latest LP, Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit, (Columbia) is a happy return to the smash and thrash of earlier epics like his Pure Pop For Now People, LP. New songs like "Awesome," "Break Away," and "Half A Boy and Half A Man," (which may be a funny musical stab at Michael Jackson), sound like a mix of Tex-Mex, Country, and Rock, down at the roadhouse on a Friday night.
But the best place to see Lowe and company, is at a smaller venue, where you can appreciate his nonchalance and musical wit and the fretboard work of guitarist Martin Belmont. Nick Lowe shouldn't have to open for anybody. The last song on the new LP, "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young," (and leave a beautiful memory), was written by Jerry Allison, of Buddy Holly and the Crickets fame. Lowe is in his 40s. Get it? Who said bar bands are bad for you? Nick's gonna be your hero too, if you live that long, right?
In New Haven, Saturday, a week ago, The Lyres brought things down to bar scale, playing in front of about 70 people at the Grotto. Jeff "Monoman" Conelly has achieved legendary status in the Boston rock scene over the years, and seeing his band, the Lyres, perform, it's easy to see why.
Conelly hammers his Farfisa organ with his right hand, while twirling a tamborine with his left hand, yielding a sound that's pure '60s fuzztone garage rock. Cavorting through songs off of the new LP, Lyres, On Fyre, (Ace Of Hearts), like the wonderful "Don't Give It Up Now," and "Help You Ann," as well as the covers "Baby Please Don't Go," "Suzie Q," and "Soapy" the whole crowd was shimmying to shake the place.
This show was what was missing at the Centrum Tuesday night. The sweat factor, where there isn't a dry brow in the place between band and audience. How do you explain the sheer exuberance of seeing Conelly and the Lyres rip the dust off the vault of rock has-beens? If people would get off the Muzak machine that is what they call modern radio, "Monoman," could be famous.
The Lyres will be around again, check 'em out. Watching Conelly set up his own microphone before the show, it struck home how few individuals you can count on in rock anymore.
Everybody's grabbing money and calling it self-respect. Well, Nick Lowe and Monoman are dancing in their own sweat, holding out for self-respect and fun, and while I'll always wish Elvis Costello the best, the former are my kind of guys. 'Cause they never miss a Friday night, even when it's Tuesday.