It seemed to have the makings of history about it. One compressed week of new wave assault here in New York, featuring debuts by Ian Dury and Nick Lowe and premier Palladium headlines for Blondie and Elvis Costello.
Obviously the pressure was on for all of the bands to play to the death. The movement was already breaking through; now they were each out to go all the way and capture the most attention for themselves.
Some put on stunningly breathless shows while others were merely out of breath. Even if it didn't turn out to be historic, the thrill of the inherent competition still made it an unmissable event.
Thankfully the most disappointing contestant came right at the start. Monday it was Ian Dury at The Bottom Line, doing his epileptic Oliver Reed routine.
Some call it dada but it seemed more like dog doo here in New York as Dury moaned his way through funky dirges that all sounded like slowed-down cement mixers.
His insults to the crowd were totally meaningless and most people seemed unsure whether to laugh at him or with him.
"Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll" was one good song amidst the mire. Unfortunately, most of the other toons bore a more than striking resemblance to it, one exception being the rousing "Sweet Gene Vincent."
Still, Dury was so lost in his cockney curmudgeon character that during such legitimately sentimental pieces as "My Old Man," he was inappropriately mocking in his tone.
As interesting as his misanthropic persona is, the sound was simply too dull to support the wonderfully active lecherousness of his character.
But things picked up for the new wave later in the week. Thursday saw a Palladium showdown for Robert Gordon with Link Wray and kitsch queen, Blondie.
Even though the members of Gordon's three piece band each seemed to be playing in different galaxies, Robert Gordon was greasily sensational. Flashing his pompadour-extraordinaire, Gordon launched into such old classics as "Mystery Train" with incredible command. Each snap of his fingers awarded him charisma that transcended any Elvis (Presley!!) clone accusations.
Still, I think Gordon is about ready to lay Link Wray to rest. His guitar work was painfully monotonous and always out of step with the drums and Rob Stoner's obnoxiously imposing bass. True enough, Stoner's a wonderful bassist, but his Jack Bruce-like indulgences here seemed to throw off the rest of the band.
Similarly, Blondie's band had some problems but the platinumed focal point helped straighten things out. One of the finest aspects of Blondie's sound is Chris Stein's marvelously juvenile ice skating rink-type organ. When the band last played New York at CBGB's last year, the organ was up front, making for a screamingly funny backdrop to Debbie Harry's acid dropping Jean Harlow act.
Here, though, the guitars took over and numbers like "You Look Good In Blue" and the opening "X-Offender" were the worse for it. Also, Blondie's normally impromptu dancing was a bit too restrained; unlike last year's show where she appeared like a dancing version of the kid in the "Help Stop Muscular Dystrophy" ad.
Still, her commie red flag attire and Nancy Sinatra "boots made for walking" were correct detail, especially highlighting "Contact In Red Square." Though the songs from the superior first album generally came off better, another high point was Debbie's Mata Hari (no relation) routine in "Kidnapper." Mindless camp admittedly, but then Blondie is to New Wave what Southside Johnny is to R&B — fun without real passion.
For the real stuff one had to look to the triple bill on Saturday; the showdown between Nick Lowe, Mink Deville and Elvis Costello. Admittedly, Nick Lowe, (decked out in a two-tone "now people" shirt), is too far on the calculated cutesy side to dredge up any deep feelings, but his show did feature a fab power pop sound. "So It Goes" (a steal from Steely Dan's "Reelin' In The Years") whisked by in a flash as the Rockpile band panted through seven short musical glimpses of heaven.
Dave Edmunds lent several of his "rockabilly" tunes, but it was his feverish guitar work on the Lowe numbers that really clinched the show. Lowe's lyrics are some of the wittiest around (especially his camp on Bowie in "I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass"). I wished he had time to chi more.
From tongue-piercing-through-cheek wit, though, it was straight down to earthy Bronx with the New York Mink Deville. Singer Willy has made well known his distaste for other new wave bands and so it was no surprise that tonight he was out for blood. At his best, Deville did succeed in stealing the show, especially on the softer numbers like "Spanish Stroll," replete with The Immortals doo-wopping in the background. In this remarkable rendition the band found that funky plane that every rock band worth its salt is always aiming for.
Following it with the deeply felt "Mixed-Up Shook-Up Girl" brought real live crocodile tears to these beady little eyes, giving me a moment I will not soon forget. Unfortunately, Willie's emotive voice was lost on many of the louder numbers, including their "borrow" of The Temptations' "My Girl" in "Venus Of Avenue D," but the least said about these songs the better.
All that mattered at this point was that Elvis and his Attractions had a hell of a lot to top. At first, it didn't seem like he was going to measure up, offering anaemic versions of such faves as "No Action."
But by the time the Faustian "Red Shoes" rolled around, Elvis was recharged. Many songs, such as "The Pump," with its "Subterranean Homesick Blues"-like word packing, were simply too fast for Elvis to sing adequately, but strangely, as the night went on his control became stronger.
Some songs left off the new album came off best, including "I Don't Wanna Go To Chelsea" and "Two Little Hitters," but it was "Alison" that once again proved Elvis' aim is true. This was the first time The Attractions had appeared with Elvis in New York and they really kicked out the power behind the encores "Radio, Radio" and "Watchin' The Detectives."
Though Elvis got the best reception of all six bands this week, at this last show the contestants obviously came to a draw.
With this much great music coming into town and so much more to come, it finally seems true that new wave has made 1977-78 the best year for live and album rock 'n' roll since the seventies began.