Elvis Costello, the brightest star of the recent New Wave in rock and roll, played to a zealous sold-out crowd at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium Feb. 7. This was the second time Costello has played in the Bay Area since the release of his debut album, My Aim Is True.
His show at the Old Waldorf last November was his first time in the United States and his stage presence was stiff, to say the least. Musically, the set was tight and quick; the band, the Attractions, proved to be extremely capable. Costello had also appeared on NBC's Saturday Night Live in December after the Sex Pistols had cancelled. On this show he appeared distant, awkward and unrehearsed; which did not help his bid for a wider audience.
But this time around, Elvis Costello and the Attractions proved that they can play bigger halls and that they are definitely the best Rock and Roll to come around since that New Jersey boy. Opening with "Mystery Dance" from his only album, Elvis turned on the power that was missing from his first stint at the Waldorf.
Dressed in a dark gray suit with narrow lapels, a skinny tie, hard shoes, black hornrims, and uncharacteristically long (1 and a half inches) hair, Elvis stood statue-like for most of his set, casting icy glances around the room as he spat out his bitter love songs.
Elvis' lyrics are biting; vicious stories of unfaithful lovers, frightened adolescents, and a general distrust of the human race. This sample from the yet unreleased "You're Not Just Another Mouth (in the Lipstick Vogue)" shows a bit of Elvis' spiteful view of love:
"Don't say you love me if it's just a rumor.
Don't say a word if there is any doubt.
Sometimes I think that love is just a tumor --
You've got to cut it out."
During his set Elvis played only six songs from his album, performing the remaining ten tunes for the first time. Ten new songs are a lot to ask an audience to swallow, but for the most part his new material was even stronger than the more well-known tunes. Two of the best included the aforementioned "Lipstick Vogue" and a song called "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea." The latter containing a gut-ripping guitar solo and the reggae-flavored keyboards that made "Watching the Detectives" such a fine tune.
Whenever Elvis moved from his trance-like state, the audience went wild with cheers and applause as if this would coax him to put some more life into his act. But an animated Elvis is not important; it is entirely in character to watch him immobile for ten songs. The importance is in the intonation, the way he spits the lyrics in his gruff Springsteen-like voice. When he does walk around, it is absolutely hilarious; stumbling over amplifiers, guitar and mike chords, even his own feet. The best of his histrionics consisted of his putting down his guitar and trying to fold his arms. Each time his arms would fail to cross, a drum beat would sound like in an old Vaudeville routine as he kept a stony straight face throughout.
Hounded back for two encores, which included a masterful snarling of the sarcastic "I'm Not Angry," Elvis proved that his popularity is growing rapidly, and if if continues he will break out of his present "cult" status into a well-deserved national acceptance.
Elvis Costello is a superb lyricist and a refreshing rock and roller; he is a frustrated romantic who has given up swoon for unfettered angry emotion. As trite as the phrase seems, it still says it all: his aim is true.