Elvis Costello is almost the complete antithesis of a rock star, neither looking nor acting the part.
Perhaps that's why his ardent followers, several thousand strong, only half-filled the Civic Centre Wednesday night. But Costello is neither a long-time rock celebrity like a Rod Stewart or an Elton John, nor is he a transitory chart sensation.
So the fans who applauded his every move Wednesday night were serious, appreciative fans rather than trend-chasing star-gazers who help sell out many rock concerts.
And though Costcllo's performance was a bit rough around the edges the prime problem being a lack of vocal clarity it was a great concert, devoid of all the usual rock show trappings but all the more compelling for the simplicity of one man, his band and his music.
Though there is more of a Dustin Hoffman look about him in his dapper suit, white shoes and Buddy Holly eyeglasses, he still looks more like the stereotype figure of a bookwormish clerk than the central figure of a rock concert. At most concerts, he'd look out of place in the audience, let alone up on stage.
Yet Costello remains one of the most significant, creative and talented artists to emerge from the late '70s — and chart new musical roads on into the '80s.
After bursting on the scene in the late '70s, his career has taken more turns than a cross-town bus route, moving from the new angry young man of rock all the way to country ballads before recently releasing his most mellow yet creative album to date, Imperial Bedroom.
Looking eager and actually friendly, Costello took his audience through a convincing cross-section of his better material, ranging from his first album, My Aim Is True, right up to his latest.
Backed by his tight and thoroughly competent three-piece band, The Attractions, Costello wasted no time, pausing only occasionally for a quick "thank you" or similar remark as he packed his short but powerful one-hour set full of non-stop music.
Though his words were too often barely understandable, his ever-shifting moods and tones came bursting through, giving even his more recent and more mellow material a great new edge, to the point where newer songs "Shabby Doll," "And In Every Home" and "Kid About It" — were given almost as thunderous a reception as his older classics — "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Oliver's Army," "Radio Radio," "Pump It Up" and "Alison."
The crowd called Costello and his band back three times for a total of 12 encore songs ranging from the high-energy of "Mystery Dance" to the hushed tones of "Almost Blue."
The dynamic new British quartet Talk Talk also drew a well deserved encore with a tight and efficient opening set. The band's uncanny precision and distinctive but singular approach lent a bit too much of a clockwork air to their relentless, almost oppressive sound but the music was dramatic and fascinated the appreciative crowd.