Only a fool wouldn't admit that Elvis Costello is an inspired performer, lyricist, and composer — which is probably why his two local performances sold out so quickly. But if his performance at the Berkeley Community Theatre last Friday is any indication, he apparently disdains American audiences immensely; I don't think, in fact, that such an incongruous mixture or musical skill and utter tactlessness has been achieved by a major rock performer locally in a long, long time.
The Rubinoos, an exciting local band whose latest album will be released on Valentine's Day (watch out for it), opened the evening with a swift set of 1950's- and 1960's-tinged rock, played in a totally winning fashion. Smooth, Beatlesque harmonies are the Rubinoos trademark, and they most certainly use it to their advantage, as in their sterling rendition of the Lennon-McCartney classic, "Please. Please Me." Combine that with a totally commanding stage presence and fine musicianship all around, and there's not much more you can ask for. (One might also call attention to a splendid and captivating new composition, "I Warms Be Your Boyfriend," which will appear on their upcoming album.)
After a short intermission. Elvis Costello and his backup band, the Attractions, began their set and completely won over the audience with a selection of songs primarily from his latest album, Armed Forces. Truly remarkable lighting design prevailed throughout the performance, and one could only admire his exceptional and spirited versions of songs like "Peace. Love. and Understanding" and "Accidents Hill Happen"; also first-rate were the tight and well-orchestrated arrangements which accompanied the songs.
But after no more than 35 minutes, Elvis Costello and the Attractions left the stage. Most of the audience was sure that he was going to perform his encores, especially since the stage-lights were still on. Perhaps he would even perform another set, since material from his first album ("Alison," "Watching the Detectives." etc.) hadn't been played yet in the concert. But twenty minutes later, the curtains were closed, and an extremely angry and dissatisfied audience left the theatre.
Now, I'll admit that punk new wave music is minimalist, but there's absolutely no excuse for Elvis Costello's travesty. Even the Ramones (the ultimate punk minimalists), who performed in Winterland late last year, gave their fans well over twenty songs and two encores. But Elvis evidently didn't think too much of his audience, so he left while his fans were cheering — until they finally jeered and booed him.
At the end of last Friday's concert, a fan went outside and burned one of the Elvis Costello posters which were on sale, apparently in effigy. The crowd who had gathered around cheered enthusiastically at the gesture. It just goes to prove that a performer who abuses his audience as flagrantly as Costello did last Friday will and very much deserves to lose his following: I know I speak for quite a few when I say that he's not going to get a penny more from me.