Record Mirror, March 14, 1981

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Record Mirror


Blue chip Costello

Elvis Costello / Manchester, Apollo

Mike Nicholls

It had to happen! The image had to crack!! Yes, Elvis smiled!!!! It seems declining record sales and loss of "pop star" potential has necessitated a change in attitude. So 26 songs in 62 minutes and nary a frown throughout. Value for money or what?

Not only that but there's also acknowledgement of the fact that there's an audience out there. Hence witty asides like introducing "Clubland" as his (stiffed) Xmas single. And when the very mention of Trust garnered a Crackerjack-style reception, he wryly prided himself that at least some people bought it.

But the main events were the smiles: big ones for happy songs, little smiles for sad songs and coy ones over the top of his shades to make sure the clever lines didn't go unnoticed.

Yep, there was expressiveness in abundance and before gibbering any further let me tell you that this was the most faultless performance I've ever seen — from Elvis at any rate. Having honed his songs and his band to excruciating tightness, there's now time to concentrate on the visuals. Essential with most acts anyway, but not him as a result of the extraordinary quality of the goods in every other department.

Sure the tunes still come as thick and fast as machine gun shells but amongst them are pure pearl mini-epics one wouldn't have thought him capable of. Whereas "Big Tears" merely showed compassion,"Clowntime Is Over" put Laurence Olivier's acting on a par with Tweetie Pie's. Head held in angst, palms clasped in prayer, it was melodrama itself while "Hand In Hand" literally choked on its own venom.

Perhaps more important, his voice was stronger than ever,reaching its crooning peak on that masterpiece of paranoia "Watch Your Step" and Merle Haggard's "I'll Take Good Care of You." Other covers included a couple of Bobby Blue Bland songs and his namesake's "Little Sister," a stroke of grand larceny coming over like a fierce crossbreed of Motown's "Rockin' Robin" and Gene Vincent's "Be Bop A Lu La."

Yet obviously it's the oldies that go down best and the opening volley of "Pump It Up" / "Radio Radio" / "Chelsea" / "Oliver's Army" was the most brutal imaginable. The magnificent "King Horse" was preambled with John Cooper Clarke's "I Don't Wanna Be Nice," then after providing the briefest of breathers with the downbeat "Strict Time," it was all systems go with "Possession," Steve Nieve's keyboards driving like a stolen Maserati.

The pacing was as effortlessly inspired throughout, the juxtaposition of the soaring "From A Whisper To A Scream," with the meandering, devious "Watching The Detectives" most breathtaking.

The next two encores similarly wedded opposite styles, "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" a neat forerunner to the first album's "Mystery Dance." But with superb judgement, the ultimate delicacy was left until the end: "Big Sister's Clothes" boasts the most perceptive lyrics he's ever written, the word-play exemplary even by his standards: "She's got eyes like saucers / Oh you think she's a dish / She's the Blue Chip that belongs to the big fish."

Sheer poetry, or as the man himself said on this most auspicious of Sunday nights, "better than going to church, innit?"

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Record Mirror, March 14, 1981

Mike Nicholls reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Sunday, March 8, 1981, Apollo Theatre, Manchester, England.


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