There was no doubt in anyone's soul as the entire company plus the dancing airhanger crowd joined forces for a stirring grand finale rendition of "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll" that they don't come any Stiffer than this!
Short blasts of impressive sets, coming in rapid speed with the merest modicum of seconds between each one, during which time would be spend with the solitary-tooth Hysterical Camp Follower of the Albertos agitating the Croydon crowd, whose early restraint when it came to Pogo demonstratives and related calisthenics meant Wreckless Eric got the proceedings off to a slow start.
His back-up band comprised Ian Dury on drums resembling Sergeant Fury of Marvel's Howlin' Commandos fame in G.I cap jauntily perched on top of his shaven skull, giant pilot shades which nearly obliterated half of his Juicy Fruit chewing visage and laying into the kit with casual arm-flailing savagery.
His beautiful black girlfriend laid down superb offbeat bass-lines and the True Romance rhythm section had its sound fleshed out by another girl on keyboards, a vinyl-clad hep-cat on saxophone and out slashing with epileptic cool at his Telecaster and growling his self-penned songs like Lee Feelgood, Wreckless Eric, himself resembling Dennis Waterman on Pro-Plus, and failing to cut to the core with anything other than "The Whole Wide World," featured on the Bunch of Stiffs compilation album and benefitting greatly from relative familiarity.
Next up was the three pronger assault of Nick Lowe, and evil Roy Wood lookalike in the shape of Larry Wallis and the evening's surprise cameo appearance that matted dumpy rockpile himself — Dave Edmunds.
The three worked with an equal share of the spoils, a kind of exhilarating Greatest Hits set with a dead heat for the honour of highpoint between Lowe's electric "Roadrunner" derivative, the first and best song ever released on Stiff, "Heart Of The City," Larry Wallis' chanted five-chord tirade "Police Car" and Edmunds' desperate Chuck Berry stereotype, "I Knew The Bride."
The perfect expression of the palpable flexibility of the Stiff package running-order came when Ian Dury announced that his tribute "Gene Vincent" would be accompanied by Dave Edmunds on guitar.
"Who used to WORK with Gene Vincent!" Dury rejoiced, the pint-sized perennial Wide Boy visibly trembling with passion.
But Edmunds missed his cue because he was in the bar.
"He can't be in the bar!" Dury anguished, then shrugged. "Oh, well, we'll do 'Clever Trevor' instead…"
And they went into the song against self-opinionated meat-heads and by the time they'd finished Dave was back for "Gene Vincent," the song split into two paradoxical parts, the first sweet and lilting, the second spat out with suitably poisonous gob.
Dury writes songs that take the satirical piss and/or celebrate the subject matter with humour, affection and a stunning intensity of funk supplied by his band comprising Charley Charles on drums, Norman Watt-Roy on bass, Chaz Jankel on guitar and Davey Payne on sax, the songs from the album and the A-side of the single further embellished by Geoff Castle on moog.
The big Uncle of Punk and his band pumped out a pastiche of every category of kids-dancing music there ever was with such deft good-time-tonight swaggering barrow-boy panache that it became cockle-warming, crystal clear that the legacy of the Kilburns will be providing a life-soundtrack for the remainder of the decade.
'Andsome it was, and I'd point out that Dury's use of the colloquial in his songwriting borders on the Shakespearian, if I thought it wouldn't make ya Bob 'N' Dick.
Elvis Costello took us up to the climax of massed Cast Of Characters with his beautiful, perfectly constructed pop-songs for sensitive souls suffering from lost loves, lives and libidos, and the unflagging excellence of his songwriting should by now have got the G.P. derivative accusations brusquely brushed off his grey-mohair clad back.
More than the soul-shoes-on son, Elvis sounds like a Modern World Torch Juke Box that has reached a level of dancing, to keep from bawling (both heartbroken tears and vindictive threats) with such total assimilation of his influences that all comparisons to other artists' work are irrelevant.
The furious "I'm Not Angry," choking on its own bitter psychosis, the tender-regret tempered with Don't Look Back of "Alison," the confused impotence plea "Mystery Dance," the classic that got the N.F. on his trail, "Less Than Zero," and "Waiting For The End Of The World," plus every other sparkling gem the man's ever penned; Elvis never misses, mister.
The champion of the little-geezer has evidently been copping a few stage moves from Joe Strummer since the last time I saw him a while back. He straps his guitar up to his chest, drops his jaw in slack-mock astonishment, ambles in loose-kneed bug-eyed pigeon-toed walks while slashing with absent-minded venom at this battered Fender.
He looks like a midget Japanese Kamikaze Pilot who wants to look like Buddy Holly and dresses down to clerk-chic of conservative two-piece grey tonic mohair whistle 'n' flute (ethnic, what?), dark peckham-rye and buttoned-up buttoned-down and shoes like dead-mens' noses with the respect, genius and compassion of a Ray Davis song.
Being natural may be the biggest pose of all but it works like a dream for the golden boy/freak of the class of '77 and as Elvis and Dury yelled "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll" together at the end I couldn't help thinking that Costello will be making classic con-artist love-albums long after the New Wave riot-troops have pawned their studded leather wrist bands and decided to stop using Vaseline. (And who the hell is Day?)