Under normal circumstances, the audience should have been out of their seats and rushing the stage the moment Rockpile opened the marathon by slamming straight into "Sweet Little Lisa" and, after encoring with "Singing The Blues" should have chaired them shoulder high for their efforts.
There's such an abundance of world-class talent in Rockpile that's it's remarkable (let alone an achievement) that just one unit can accommodate it all so effectively. But then, such compatibility is such an integral part of their appeal.
Rockpile not only possess three extremely strong frontman (plus drummer Terry Williams, a power unto himself) but above all their one major asset is their unselfish ability to deploy themselves to everyone's mutual advantage.
Only the very best of their collective repertoire ever makes the final check lists. Hits are kept to a minimum ("Crawling From The Wreckage," "Queen Of Hearts," "Cruel To Be Kind" and "Girls Talk") to the extent that any song, no matter what its origins, is only used if it enables the ‘Pile to celebrate rock ‘n’ roll.
Of the 15 quick fire songs performed, Dave Edmunds grabbed eight, Nick Lowe handled three. Billy Bremner impressed with “Trouble Boys” and “Born Fighter”, while all three got a crack at a chorus of “Ju-Ju Man”. By way of a mid-set bonus, Robert Plant made a low key guest appearance on Presley’s “Little Sister”. But being dressed in an uncharacteristic oatmeal jacket and white scarf a lot of people didn’t realise they’d just seen the ol’ lemon squeezer in an unusual cameo role.
Come to think of it, once Rockpile had left the stage far too few realised they’d also seen one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands in this land.
“You’ve probably been eating turkey all week,” Elvis Costello quipped, having just opened with the kind of raw intensity of his reworking of The Merseybeats’ “I Stand Accused”, that most artists spend an entire set carefully building. “So,” he continued, “we’ve brought you a few more!” With that he promptly slammed into “The Beat”.
Only someone with the audacity and ability of Costello would have the unwavering confidence to directly follow Rockpile and, at the same time, take the opportunity of giving Wings an object lesson on the rewards of taking a flyer.
And Costello earned a much more genuine response for his unpredictability than Wings drew for playing safe.
From the outset of his career, Elvis Costello has always been in the high risk business and it’s his insistence on taking chances – tonight devoting half of his set to his unreleased album – that makes his approach so subversive. It’s a ploy which has proved disastrous for many artists (including himself,) but Costello insists on playing by his own set of rules and is quite prepared to fully accept the consequences.
But Elvis Costello demands attention, and naturally the squirt confounded the cynics by pulling it off and proving his point.
“Oliver’s Army” was his only safe bet. Not only have songs like “Chelsea” and “Watching The Detectives” been given a complete overhaul, but the familiar shiny vinyl organ has been replaced by Steve Naïve’s pumping Booker T croak from his Hammond while the firm of B and T Thomas match his moods with appropriate Stax and Motown rhythms. Even the new single, “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” is Costello’s highly-personalised R&B shout, “Girl’s Talk” deviates from Edmunds’ cover in that it’s kitted out with a straight 4/4 mid ‘60s Tamla tempo. And an unannounced original cheekily flaunts the bass intro from “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”.
In the past, The Attractions have never been confined to the role of accompanists, but the newer material now gives them even more scope, with Elvis often dropping out to allow them to project their own identity.
The overall sound-mix may have enabled Costello and friends to pack the kind of whallop that Wings couldn’t aspire to, but in the process it was often extremely difficult to begin to decipher the lyrics of such new songs as “Possessions”, “The Imposter” and “High Fidelity”.
The overall quality of the performance, the feel of knowing that someone is in there winning completely, washed away any hesitation in accepting such a canon of first-time listening material. As if that wasn’t sufficient to impress everyone, the encore of “Pump It Up” stripped the enamel off one’s molars.
But then, it’s a proven fact that rock music rots your teeth!