The Elvis Costello and the Attractions / Squeeze "English Mugs" tour moved into New York's Palladium this February 1st for the second of a long sold-out three night stand. The bespectacled Englishman — always the antithesis of what "rock stars" are expected to look like — hadn't been seen on U.S. shores in nearly two years.
Packaging Squeeze on this tour was a wise choice. The group's steadily increasing popularity — stemming from their recent Argy Bargy and Cool for Cats LP's — helped them to earn hearty applause. Their tight performance and the sincere manner of vocalist/guitarist Glenn Tilbrook insured Squeeze a warm reception as they blended familiar hits with material from their new East Side Story LP. The impressive 45 minute set proved to be a tasty appetizer. Costello. singing from a totally darkened stage surprised the crowd, finding him already into the opening of "Just A Memory." As the stage lights came up. Costello — decked out in an oversized white jacket and tuxedo-styled tie — crooned his sad, soulful ballad as fans scurried to their seats.
The intervening two years had sharpened the group's playing immeasurably. As they worked their way through old favorites like "Accidents Will Happen," "Opportunity" and "Red Shoes," new tunes from the recent Trust LP, including "Watch Your Step" and "Clubland," were sprinkled in. The ever prolific Costello — who released two 20 track disks in 1980! — proved his new songs to be among the best he's written. And the audience response to these tunes thundered through the Palladium with the same enthusiasm shown his more familiar songs.
For the latter half of the 90 minute set, the group were joined on stage by Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont (fresh off the Carlene Carter tour). From here the energy level increased still further. Spurred on by the additional guitar, Costello picked up the tempos and the group soared. With little room for breath between numbers "Lovers Walk," "Possession," "Temptation" and "High Fidelity" literally flew by in a flurry of notes, lights and passions.
Costello has learned how to build a set to feverish pace, grab the audience's attention, bring things down to a whisper and then — finishing up with "Radio, Radio" and "You Belong To Me" — come in for the kill.
For the encore. Squeeze's Glen Tilbrook reappeared to join Costello in the duet "From A Whisper To A Scream." Finally, the reggae-fied "Watching The Detectives" — a tune where all the extremes can be found in the space of one song — closed out an evening in which Elvis Costello raised his on stage standards to new heights. He seemed to almost enjoy being there!