Elvis Costello sings of teeth-grinding frustration in his "Mystery Dance": "I can't do it any more and I'm not satisfied!" Well, let's hope Elvis is satisfied, at least for a while, after this past weekend, during which he and his band, the Attractions, did shows at the Capitol Theater in Passaic Friday night and the Palladium here Saturday and then did a progressive set Sunday night, from the Lone Star Cafe to the Bottom Line and then the Great Gildersleeve, hitting this last at 3 a.m. Monday.
The British singer-songwriter, 24, whose real name is Declan Patrick McManus, had a brief career as a computer operator before turning musician. He first came onto the American scene a year ago with word-of-mouth preparation as phenomenon of the year. That's a tough billing to live up to, but his first two albums sold well here last year, just under gold status, firming his reputation, and his new LP, Armed Forces, has sold even better than either of them.
His bespectacled, deliberately wimplike look underscores the recurring anger and accusation in his songs, which send out challenges over deceptively easy-to-take melodic hooks. He was up for a Grammy in February as Best New Artist of the Year but he lost out to a sweet-singing female duo, Taste of Honey, who had an innocuous disco hit, "Boogie Oogie Oogie." This surprised no one. Feelgood disco vs. angry young man is no contest. Elvis is known for having an outspoken way offstage too and some aspersions cast on American performers, black and white, provoked a barroom fight in Columbus, Ohio, last week, sending out enough waves in news reports to bring him some anonymous hate messages and death threats. This could explain why he was a most amiable figure onstage at the Lone Star and continued in that attitude through the night, even introducing a new song with a suggestion of self-mockery, "I Stand Accused," at the Bottom Line.
Smiling broadly at the Lone Star, he said, "This playing three clubs is somebody's idea of an April fool and I think I know who the fool is," pointing a finger at himself with lifted eyebrows and a grimace. Nevertheless his performances showed he obviously enjoyed what he was doing.
Of the three places on the evening's trip the Lone Star was the most unusual setting for him since its specialty is contemporary country, although he did do one country song he recorded as a duet on a George Jones LP, "Stranger in the House." Unfortunately, through someone's decision to over-amplify the club, his lyrics, the heart of his effectiveness, too often were blurred by the volume.
He was preceded at the Lone Star by some young new wavers called Shrapnel who do an act parodying military heroics and for whom the artillery barrage of sound was more appropriate, with their songs like "Where the Bombs Are." Opening sounds at the Bottom Line were softer with a teen-delight quartet from San Francisco, the Rubinoos, but by the time Elvis hit Gildersleeve's, on the Bowery, it was back to blast with a local group called VHF getting opening honors.