Projected Passion, Intense Emotion and Trans-Global Express can pale into history. With the word that Afrodiziak and The TKO Horns were going on the road with Elvis Costello And The Attractions, we knew that this was gong to be the closest '80s Hitsville UK will get to the legendary power of the '60s sock-it-to-me soul review. But first, showing that Americans are no slouches either at playing American music, came Rank And File.
Like The Stray Cats and Bluebells before them, this Elvis-endorsed combo are steeped in pop tradition. From San Francisco, Rank And File play country with youthful elan end quirky wit borne of a real, living affection for their sources.
Bassist Tony Kinman stands rooted to the spot, haughtily impassive yet vastly comical in ten-gallon hat and dark brown Johnny Cash voice booming from the bottom of his boots. By contrast, brother Chip sings as high as an elephant's eye, slings a chiming geetar and rocks around in gleeful Joe Ely style. Junior Brown hugs the shadows but plucks a mean Hawaiian steel whilst Slim Evans raps a solid if unswinging backbeat.
R&F include in their set a few safe standards like the June Carter-Cash / Merle Kilgore megahit "Ring Of Fire" and George Jones' funny, spunky "White Lightning." But as it happens, R&F originals from the Sundown LP and new material like "Tell Her I Love Her" ring out even better. Best of all the keeningly infectious "Coyote" draws a wry vignette of America today to approach the sharpness of The Specials' UK snapshots. And of course the country idiom combines ironic aptness with more straightforwardly accessible delights.
From white man's soul to four-eyed soul, Elvis emerges alone onto the eerily green-lit stage, stuffed tightly into his suit as the Little Man plunged into subterranean hell. Thus cast, a stark performance of "Pills And Soap" resounds with ominous clarity enhanced by Steve Nieve's gleefully cruel piano. And hardly has the echo died and the horror sunk in then the stage teems with two more Attractions, four TKO Horns and a brace of Afrodiziak. "Let Them All Talk" sets the pace: hot, brash, outward bound and as dynamically exciting as music ever gets.
Elvis had blown out the previous evening's gig with voice problems, and by "Man Out Of Time," the soaring elastic grace of his Bedroom croon was rasping into a rough-hewn bark. On the ropes but not out for the count, Elvis beat the unbeatable through sheer effort of will and the skill to turn his weakness into a positive strength. Since he could barely float like a butterfly, he instead stung like a bee.
His vocal urgency and directness stripped the distancing ambiguity from the heart of his songs; where he couldn't hold a high note, a brief, tremulous quaver will still tear you apart. Soul standards he covers tonight include The O'Jays' "Backstabbers" which segues into a storming "King Horse," Smokey's "From Head To Toe" and The Originals' plangent ballad "The Bells" which climaxes in wave upon wave of resounding piano and guitar.
Far more than a prop, Elvis' guitar shivers the blood in angular metal slashes in a psychotic "Chelsea" where stalk the spectres of Verlaine and Quine, only to be followed by a staggering "New Lace Sleeves" rapturously inevitable yet chillingly spiked with the unworldly neurosis of McGuinn-like morse-coding.
The Beat's "Stand Down Margaret" merges pointedly into "Beyond Belief" followed by the tenterhooks-then-release charge of "Clubland" which leaves the vinyl version for dead.
Elvis skates on thin ice when he prefaces "The World And His Wife" with "This is a little tale of rancid, putrid public life. I'd like to dedicate it from the bottom of my heart to Cecil Parkinson," but a rollercoasting swing boots the song from the studio's awkwardness to barnstorming triumph.
Lots of hits, lots of adrenalin. Summing it up, "Alison" stands naked of malice, a sparse but sweet confession of romantic obsession which swells to the soul-bearing climax, "I love you, I love you, I love you." Never has Elvis sounded more positive.
The kid gloves are off and he is swinging more than ever for the body — why be content to jab at the intellect when you pack all that heavyweight muscle?