Elvis Costello, the knock-kneed, bug-eyed new wave wonder, leaned precariously close to the microphone and sang: "I get the feeling I don't belong."
It was all part of the humble depression and angry vulnerability this pretend wimp, one of rack's genuine anti-heroes, wraps himself in, but on this particular night it took on new meaning.
Did Costello belong here? Yes and no.
He certainly belongs on stage in front of a couple of thousand affectionate, almost mothering fans like he was Sunday night in the auditorium of Algonquin College's western campus.
But whether he belongs on this particular stage is another story. Frankly nobody, artist or audience member, belongs in this miserable excuse for a concert hall.
Costello, who rumor has it is resisting the leave-'em-all-behind leap to hockey arena stages, has a large following in Canada on the basis of two great albums and some legend-making appearances in Toronto.
Thus it was little surprise that he sold out in Ottawa — though four out of five people I talked to in the weeks leading up to the concert said they'd pass on seeing this new wave favorite due to the inconvenience of the Algonquin auditorium.
Sunday rumors ran rampant that the concert had been grossly over-sold — charges promoter Jon L'Heuri denied just before the show.
And yet at concert time they were still shoehorning them in, long lineups of people who paid full price, came early and still found themselves standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder along the walls, in the aisles and high up in the back behind the seats.
A sardine would have felt claustrophobic. Take a couple of friends and sit for a few hours in a closed closet and you'll have an idea of what it was like.
The theatre-type seats were relatively comfortable but produced a feeling of detachment, as if everything was happening in another room and the sights and sounds were being experienced second-hand. Those on the floor had a more intimate, involved view but had to put up with stiff appendages, sore backs and bruised tailbones from scrunching up on the hard gym floor.
Aside from no room in which to breathe, the heat and air pollution were extremely oppressive. A non-smoker consumed a pack and a half just from being in the poorly ventilated room.
Thus it was to Costello's credit that he performed and pleased the crowd so well, considering all he had working against him.
Dressed in a baggy black suit, sporting large dark-rimmed glasses and an oversized guitar, Costello's a throwback to the pre-industrial revolution days of rock and roll, a time when rock heroes emerged from the street in raw human form. Nowadays they come slickly packaged and promoted like plastic toys and fast-frozen food.
Costello's a rebel who doesn't need a cause. He comes across like Bruce Springsteen born ugly and awkward but winning through nonetheless.
He doesn't look like Buddy Holly, he looks like some neighborhood goof trying to look like Buddy Holly.
With his knock-kneed, pigeon-toed stance and less-than-polished movements he appeals to our natural love for losers, but the magic part is we don't have to feel sorry for him. By taking on the role of spokesman for the non-beautiful-people, he cleverly and consistently touches a common nerve. He's no idol, but he's almost adored, certainly endearing to anyone secretly longing to simply get up on stage and rock.
Less intense and angry than reputation led us to expect, Costello and his fine three-man band, The Attractions, cranked out 50 minutes of almost non-stop music, scoring particularly well with tunes like "This Year's Girl," "Mystery Dance," "Radio, Radio" and "The Beat."
Down front, everyone who'd come to their feet when Costello bounded out on stage had been convinced by the third tune to sit down so others could see, but near the end, Costello himself waved them to their feet as he came thumping down the homestretch with tunes like "You Belong to Me" and "Pump It Up."
An early exit left the crowd hollering for more and after some delay, Costello and band returned for "Miracle Man." Still the crowd begged for more but that was it for the evening and perhaps the only thing that kept the crowd from becoming unruly was a strong craving for some fresh air and elbow room.
It was a pretty good concert, but in addition to the numbers Costello didn't do, like "Little Triggers," "Less Than Zero" and most of all, "Alison," there was a feeling that it could have been a lot better. Perhaps Costello didn't like the room either.
The Wives — formerly Battered Wives — opened the show with a 40-minute set of punk rock that drew strong applause from about a third of the audience and everything from apathy to repulsion from the rest, with shouted and whispered comments like "Go home ya bums" and "What a pile of ----."
The Wives played reasonably well but having set their albeit relatively low standards, flubbed enough lines. vocally and instrumentally to leave themselves open to criticism from even their fans.
They could also use a lot more physical animation on stage to go with what is basically rock 'em sock 'em music.