On Sunday, February 26, I made the long venture to the East Side with a couple of my buddies to see what turned out to be a very impressive concert at Brown's Alumnae Hall. The ticket was $3.25, and my expectations were minimal for the first (I suspect) area appearance of the legendary Elvis Costello. It turned out that I received more than I paid for and much more than I expected.
Prior to the show, my knowledge of Costello was very limited. I had seen him on Saturday Night Live and had heard his album, My Aim Is True, a couple of times. Also, I had read a Rolling Stone article which told of Elvis arrest in England for taking his guitar into the streets and of his statement that he would like to die young — before he would have to witness his "artistic decline." His show would have to be something to see.
The cramped condition in Alumnae Hall gave it the atmosphere of a club, rather than that of a theater or auditorium, and the lack of legitimate seating added to that atmosphere. The warm-up band was Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band; they were introduced as a Boston band, but their music was neither Aerosmith or J. Geils oriented. They seemed more like punk rock amateurs from the Modern Lovers school Not an encouraging opening.
Just the appearance of Elvis Costello took away any doubts I might have had about the professionalism of his act. His well-polished appearance was enhanced by his button-down shirt, his grey sportcoat, and his dark dress slacks. Everybody was automatically brought back about 15 years or so to the days when the Stones and Beatles were playing places like this. Costello's sloped shoulders and bespectacled head seem to be more defiant than any group of 100 long-haired bottle throwers. On top of it all, he plays some of the most hard-driving LIVE music I have ever heard.
Accented by outrageous stage presence and insane finger pointing antics, Elvis' music leaps off the stage — slamming the heads of the listeners like a series of eight-pound bowling balls. Even with this impact, the music is never overwhelming; its force is counterpointed by fascination with the master clown-punk who occupies center stage.
At times, one can't help but be reminded of stories about the early Stones and of the younger days of Peter Townshend and a fire-spitting Who. Elvis sometimes reaches that level of intensity in performance. For those of you who, like me, missed the early days of those hands who have become something beyond totally accessible, then make it a point to see Elvis Costello on his next journey into this area. It just might be one of the biggest favors you'll do for yourself for a long time.