San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1982

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An Elvis Costello that only
hardcore fans could love

Joel Selvin

The elaborate idiosyncrasies of Elvis Costello threaten to engulf his not inconsiderable talents.

He insisted on concentrating, for instance, his more than two-hour show Saturday at UC-Berkeley's Greek Theater on boozy, sentimental ballads, instead of the aggressive, two-fisted rock for which his fans first grew to love him.

And it wasn't simply that he played a lot of slow, somewhat oblique tunes. He didn't sneak them in between hard rocking sections of the show or bundle them up together in one long passage. Rather, when the show called for dramatic, cathartic rock pieces, he would pull out yet another drippy ballad, as though he were daring the audience to object.

Presumably, that is one of Costello's great charms — his rigid defiance of convention, even flaunting his own fans' expectations right back at them, after they ponied up more than 10 bucks apiece to catch his concert in the chilly Berkeley night air.

Costello loves to pack his albums with tight, quick songs, sometimes putting as many as 20 selections on each LP. At this point, the prolific singer-songwriter has recorded such a dizzying number of tunes, even his staunchest fans have trouble keeping track of what numbers came from which album. To confuse matters even further, he filled a substantial part of his program Saturday with works from yet another new album, most entirely unfamiliar to the more than 9000 people who jammed the Greek Theater to capacity and beyond.

He first emerged five years ago, the latest in a long line of rock's angry young men, with a debut album, My Aim Is True, brimming with heartfelt angst and bristling with razor-edged, fundamental rock.

He rode the crest of the burgeoning new wave to a position of prominence as the new scene's leading songwriter, a kind of ultimate recognition of that status being accorded Costello when queen of ersatz rock Linda Ronstadt recorded some of his tunes.

Costello stood onstage at the Greek Theater Saturday, dressed in his typical conservative gray suit, which, even cut loose as it was, failed to conceal his bloated waistline. Costello is not exactly Mr. Personality or Captain Showbiz in concert.

With a detached, aloof manner, he and his three accompanists machine-gunned song after song at the crowd, with barely a "thank you" in between.

From a musical standpoint, the band has grown impressively. The Attractions, as his backup group is called, displayed great finesse wrapping bits of reggae, old Stax-Volt soul sounds and inventive bits of modern rock into a melange that ended up smooth and supple, despite the disparate sources from which it drew.

Since most of his songs were virtually incomprehensible in concert, the show played almost exclusively to his many hardcore fans who had learned the lyrics through previous listenings of his records. He writes songs so full of tongue-twisting, rapid-fire lyrics, packed with tricky literary images, he couldn't possibly fully communicate their essence, spitting out his singing at the velocity his rhythms command.

Consequently, his performance ended up being a convocation of his personality cult, and there isn't that much personality there to begin with.

© 1982 San Francisco Chronicle

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San Francisco Chronicle, July 19, 1982

Joel Selvin reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Saturday, July 17, 1982, Greek Theatre, University Of California , Berkeley.


1982-07-19 San Francisco Chronicle clipping 01.jpg

Photographer unknown.
1982-07-19 San Francisco Chronicle photo 01.jpg


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