When you see the name Elvis Costello for the first time, the natural reaction is to cringe at the thought that another ghoulish Presley exploiter has appeared.
No fear. As Costello demonstrated in his debut at the Bottom Line, he's his own man with songs and personality working successfully in their own ways. Oh, there are influences from and deliberate bows to the rock and roll of the early 1960s, but models are standard items in the world of the artist.
Costello, whose name isn't really Elvis, alas, is 22 and reportedly was a computer analyst in England moonlighting as composer-performer until he hit with a record contract and LP last year.
The rush to his two-night date at the Bottom Line this week had suggestions of the swamping of Bruce Springsteen when he played that club two years ago, with the aura of cult already hanging over his head. This can be a penalty as Costello, given to four-letter indictments of such trendyism, well knows.
Well, time tells. In the meantime Costello delivers a range of songs which immediately hook the listener's attention, playing electric guitar and singing in a gruffly romantic voice that belies his deliberately wimpy appearance of short hair, horn-rims and baggy suit.
Radio listeners are going to be hearing the sinister love song "Alison (My Aim Is True)" until their heads run over with it but I prefer the dry humor of images like "I try so hard to be myself but I keep fadin' away" or the guy who sings "I'm so happy I could die," whereupon the girl tells him to "drop dead." Now that's poetic intelligence.
The opening act was an early New York punk rock band, Tuff Darts, facing obstacles from a segment of the audience who preferred former vocalist Robert Gordon to the new one, Tommy Q. Public. But the Darts still have strength with composer-bassist John De Salvo's repertoire. The Darts' attitude is crude but how can you not react to a tuneful sentiment like "I would rather slash my wrists and cut my throat than spend the night with you"?