Providence Journal, August 22, 1983

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Elvis Costello ought to mute those horns

Tony Lioce

Elvis Costello and the Attractions
Providence Civic Center

PROVIDENCE — Elvis Costello brought a four-piece horn section to the Civic Center Friday night along with his regular three-piece band, the Attractions.

He shouldn't have. He needn't have.

The problem with the horn players, who accompany Costello on his latest album, Punch the Clock, was twofold.

One, they simply weren't very good; the sound they provided was nowhere near as punchy as it should have been. As one critic already has noted, these guys are a lot closer to Chicago (not the city, but the incredibly bland band) than they are to Motown.

And two — and worse — the horns tended to drown out and at times seemed to inhibit the Attractions, especially keyboard player Steve Nieve, a musician whose shoes the horn players aren't fit to wipe.

The horn players left the stage after the seventh number, and only then did Costello and the Attractions begin to light the kind of fires that illuminated their concert at the Cape Cod Coliseum last summer, a concert that lives in memory as one of the most brilliant I've ever attended.

Through the next eleven tunes — "Mystery Dance," "Shabby Doll," "Accidents Will Happen," "New Lace Sleeves," "Big Sister's Clothes," "You Belong to Me," "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding" and the beautiful and powerful anti-war song "Shipbuilding" were among them — Costello's voice took on an urgency that previously hadn't been felt.

Nieve (who ended up nearly stealing the show), bassman Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas finally cut loose; they made obvious what any longtime fan had realized years ago — that the Attractions, arguably the most versatile band on the scene today, don't need anybody else on stage to help them.

With the horn section jettisoned, the concert took off like a rocket, and the audience responded with its most enthusiastic applause of the evening.

But then the horn section came back.

It added something only once, toward the very end of the 28-song, one-hour-50-minute program when it helped Costello turn "Clowntime Is Over" into a Sinatra-esque nightclub-type tune. The new arrangement cast the song's lyrics in a new and very effective light.

Too often, though, the horns detracted.

They were, by turns, too polished for Costello's raw, rowdy rockers and too brassy for his softer, more winsome ballads. Taking over the instrumental lead lines from Costello's guitar during "Watching the Detectives," they robbed the song of the menace that normally makes it so intriguing.

They softened the edges of "Secondary Modern" and blunted the direct attack of "Pump It Up." And under their weight, the delicate "Alison" was all but crushed.

They didn't sound quite so out of place in some other selections, such as "Let Them All Talk," "Everyday I Write the Book" and "TKO (Boxing Day)," all from the new album, "Clubland" and the R&B chestnut "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down."

But even then, they failed to supply the kind of kick, the kind of lift one expects from a horn section. Instead, their sound just sort of hung there, getting in the Attractions' way.

The whole thing was especially strange considering that Costello, in a recent interview (see last Friday's Weekend section), boasted of having shed the "excess baggage" that, to his ears, bogged down his last album, Imperial Bedroom.

To these ears, his new horn section is excess baggage personified. Here's hoping he leaves it at home next time. Or, at the very least, hires some better horn players.

Costello, by the way, looked great in a charcoal gray suit and red patent leather shoes. About 5,000 people attended the concert. The Civic Center stage had been moved toward the center of the building to scale down the house.

Tags: Civic CenterProvidenceRhode IslandThe AttractionsThe TKO HornsPunch The ClockMotownSteve NieveMystery DanceShabby DollAccidents Will HappenNew Lace SleevesBig Sister's ClothesYou Belong To Me(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?ShipbuildingBruce ThomasPete ThomasClowntime Is OverFrank SinatraWatching The DetectivesSecondary ModernPump It UpAlisonLet Them All TalkEveryday I Write The BookTKO (Boxing Day)ClublandI Can't Stand Up For Falling Down

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The Providence Journal, August 22, 1983

Tony Lioce reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with The TKO Horns, Friday, August 19, 1983, Civic Center, Providence, Rhode Island.


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