New Musical Express, October 4, 1980

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Smile Elvis, you're in a frontlash situation

Elvis Costello, Stray Cats / Rainbow

Charles Shaar Murray

What a genial figure Elvis Costello cuts. It takes a palpable effort to recall the grim creature of '77, the one with the stone face and the reptile glare and the tracks of toad-sweat down forehead and cheeks..

Who saw him then and could forget the spastic menace brought to "Watching The Detectives", the astonishing, elaborate melodrama of the way he performed "I'm Not Angry", when the original Stiff tour reached The Lyceum? Those were the days of Costello as Mr Revenge-And-Guilt, operating from the safe shelter of the persona of a worm turned Homicidal.

These days, that persona seems to have been drawn with strokes so broad as to seem almost cartoonish, comical in its exaggeration.

Where he and The Attractions once got their heads down and rushed defiantly through a set seemingly constructed to include as much unfamilar (and unintroduced) material as possible, your 1980 Costello presents a carefully sequenced programme of new and old material (one for one, most of the time), introduces the songs, smiles and even provides a few moments of mirth by appearing in baggy khaki pants and a pink leather jacket.

The principal reason for dwelling on bygone days is the fact that - at the Rainbow Theatre's 50th Anniversary concert - Costello performed more of his early material than he actually did when the stuff was relatively fresh. After transcending his past work by launching a new phase with "Get Happy!!" , Costello re-adapts songs like "Alison", "Less Than Zero" and "You Belong To Me" into the canon of his performing repertoire by interpreting them with a renewed vigour and freshness, without even a hint of the mechanical or the slightest taint of "obligation" - you know, give 'em the old stuff 'cause they like it best.

The aura of an acceptance of the past without a corresponding wallow in nostalgia even extended to the free bonus of a copy of the semi-legendary 2-Tone pressing of “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down”/“Girls Talk” single (don’t feel too bad about it; I didn’t get one either. A security man told me to pick one up from the box office during the interval and when I returned to the foyer after this fruitless quest, another security man attempted to evict me from the building.)

Be that as it may, Elvis And The Attractions put on a fast, clean show that was entertaining if not inspiring, though somewhat marred by singularly dodgy sound mix during the first third or so. The mood was positive and celebratory, and at least three of the new numbers – the opening ‘Shot With His Own Gun’ performed with just voice and piano. “Never Be A Man” and “Clubland” bode exceedingly well for the next batch of recordings.

Drummer Pete Thomas was in exceptionally good form, sensing exactly when to drive things along and when to break the flow with a well-placed cymbal shot or a fusillade of snare strokes. The drum sound was, incidentally, clear and prominent throughout even when bass, keyboards and guitar had merged into a blur. Costello himself seemed to be having a good time cueing endings and accents with Frank Zappa-esque hand signals and curt strokes of his guitar neck ; the whimsicality was oddly endearing.

Out of the revived material, “Green Shirt” held a place of honour, recast with a modified melody line and a foreboding drum roll replacing the banked synths of the original “Armed Forces” version.

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New Musical Express, October 4, 1980

Charles Shaar Murray reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions and Stray Cats, Monday, September 29, 1980, Rainbow Theatre, London.


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Photo by Claude Gassian.
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Page scans.

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