San Diego Union-Tribune, June 1, 1978

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Switchblade rock lacks edge

Robert P. Laurence

Elvis Costello, Willy DeVille

Time-warp rock was the theme at the Civic Theater last night, with Elvis Costello, Willy DeVille and Nick Lowe leading the trip back to pre-Beatle basics.

That's the odd aspect of rock's current New Wave. It's not new at all, really a throwback to the days before smoke machines, glitter and psychedelics. It's just a couple of guitars and a drum and simple songs simply played — new only in that it's different from its immediate predecessor.

Musicians taking part in this triple bill even affected the garb and coiffures of pre-Beatle and early Beatle rock — short hair, shiny, tight suits, skinny neckties and, in the case of DeVille, ducktail haircuts.

But the overall image they projected was not precisely clean and wholesome. In the case of Costello's cravatted quartet, it was more that of surly bunch of delinquents on their way to juvenile court.

As performers they and the bespectacled Costello were polished, professional and cool, but not as stirring and effective as one might have hoped. They did everything right, yet never achieved what they set out to do.

Whether the mood of the 2,300 people in the 3,000-seat Civic Theater wasn't quite right, or whether Costello's onstage charisma wasn't tuned properly, he failed to excite the crowd as he thought he should. More than once he angrily demanded that they show more enthusiasm — stand up and dance, make more noise — but such response by an audience has to come voluntarily. When he was finished, though, they did applaud and cheer him loudly and at length.

Costello's arrangements of material from his two albums thus far, My Aim Is True and This Year's Model, were precise, clean and efficient, straightforward, unadorned rock. The drums of Pete Thomas and bass of Bruce Thomas (no relation) formed a solidly cast core for the simply engineered superstracture of Costello's guitar and the organ of Steve Naive.

Costello's deep, hoarse voice blended best with the band in "Waiting for the End of the World," with its brief organ echo of "Palisades Park" and its mood of party-time at the Apocalypse. "No Action" imparted the controlled recklessness of a roller-coaster ride, and "Lipstick Vogue," with its brief drum solo adding to the mood of drama, epitomized the virtue of Costello's no-nonsense style. He disdains the self-indulgence of endless solos, and as a result wastes nothing. Every move, every note, every beat adds to the message of his material. A brief bass solo in "Watching the Detectives" does not interfere with the progress of the song, but deftly punctuates it.

Willy DeVille, leading his group, Mink DeVille, seemed a bit more detached and ironic than Costello in his approach, letting his own direct arrangements lend drama to adolescent ballads like "Little Girl" and "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl" while he stood back and allowed himself a grin.

But his "Venus of Avenue D" and "Gunslinger" were taut with energy as DeVille seemed to wield his guitar with the same ferocity as a leather-jacketed tough with a switchblade.

Late in his 45-minute set, starting with "Cadillac Walk," his already raspy voice took on an extra dose of gravel, and toward the end he resembled no one so much as Tom Waits.

Nick Lowe, another musician in the same mold, opened the evening with a half-hour set marked by a brisk, freewheeling mood. Aided by a band that included guitarist Dave Edmunds, who enjoys a small reputation of his own as a performer of early rock hits, he called up memories of the Rolling Stones and other stalwarts, but lacked a clear identity of his own.

"Heart of the City" established an enjoyable pell-mell pace, yet too much of Lowe's material was both predictable and poorly focused.

Tags: Civic TheatreSan DiegoCaliforniaThe AttractionsNick LoweRockpileMink DeVilleThe BeatlesMy Aim Is TrueThis Year's ModelPete ThomasBruce ThomasSteve NaiveWaiting For The End Of The WorldNo ActionLipstick VogueWatching The DetectivesDave EdmundsHeart Of The City

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San Diego Union, June 1, 1978

Robert P. Laurence reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with opening acts Nick Lowe and Mink DeVille, Wednesday, May 31, 1978, Civic Theatre, San Diego, California.


1978-06-01 San Diego Union-Tribune page E-5 clipping 01.jpg

Page scan.
1978-06-01 San Diego Union-Tribune page E-5.jpg


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