Elvis-mania hit New York in late March and early April, and after reports of forty minute concerts on the West Coast, fights in the midwest, and assorted other pre-publicity, no one knew quite what to expect from the rockin' nerd. What we got were a handful of well-executed and exciting concerts, a lot of abuse from Elvis' goon squad, and a feeling that Costello's bark is sometimes bigger than his bite, in spite of his ability to grasp his audience.
Costello's first show in the area was at the Capitol in Jersey, where he opened with a new song, and filled up the rest of his set with about a half-dozen other newies, a bunch from Armed Forces, and only a few each from his first two records. There was no denying the brilliance of the performance, and the two following it. Costello has developed into a showman, and his band, the Attractions, are now a tight unit which has developed a decent ability at improvising around Costello's sudden tempo changes without ever pulling ahead of him. Costello, of course, is no crack guitarist, but he doesn't pretend to be. Any instrumental noodling is left to the band, mostly his keyboard player, while Costello concentrates on his delivery, and most of all, his image.
Although he often speeds his songs up too much, he achieves the desired effect. He manages to create a dynamic and bigger-than-life aura about himself, and by the end of his show, one realizes how the performance has subtly built itself to a frenzy. It's over in slightly more than an hour, but by that time, the audience is drained and stunned — at least at the three shows I caught.
Perhaps it was part of a grand publicity scam to promote the Armed Forces LP, but Costello has set up a military atmosphere around himself, which he carries too far. At the Palladium, his roadies wore soldier's outfits, and at all the concerts, Elvis' Army practiced a search and seizure procedure where they prohibited cameras from being brought into the theaters. At the Calderone, one Relix photographer had her (snuck in) camera grabbed from her by a Costello goon, her film exposed and destroyed, and then told she could retrieve the camera after the show. Costello may be one of the most important and talented, and now professional, of the new rock 'n' rollers, but he's quickly becoming the perfect embodiment of the kind of person he professes to despise in his songs. Let's hope that he stops his game before he gets silly, because Elvis' three major New York performances (and I'd imagine the three club shows he did in the area also) proved that the success of his records is no fluke, and he is a genuine find in an era of redundancy and stiffness.
Beserkley's poppers the Rubinoos opened all three shows with the same, albeit consistently excellent set of tunes from their two LPs and their standard covers. Particularly impressive were their versions of the Beatles' "Please Please Me" and Tommy James' "I Think Were Alone Now," the Seeds' "Pushin' Too Hard," and a couple of tracks from the new album: "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and "Hold Me." They were well-received by the crowds at all three shows, although sometimes it seemed that their simplicity was going over the heads of some who have come to expect complexity from their rock 'n' roll. The Rubes got their long-deserved exposure from this tour, and were a perfect complement to Elvis' heavy-handed show, if mainly because of their light, fun approach.