A magical event took place at Paramount Northwest Friday night, the kind of thing that rarely happens in rock anymore.
Elvis Costello, a relative unknown, took the place by storm, making such an impression on a somewhat skeptical audience that many refused to leave. They gathered at the edge of the stage and chanted "Elvis! Elvis!" in unison as roadies dismantled the equipment. I haven't seen anything like that in years.
Costello (his real last name — he took his first name in honor of Elvis Presley in 1976), 22, faced a capacity audience because the show was another in the John Bauer Concert Co.'s. $1 "Catch a Rising Star" series. The bargain concerts usually sell out but the audiences are hard to win over.
What won them over so convincingly this time were the songs. Costello didn't do much "performing," barely moving from centerstage and never changing his dour expression. There were no long solos and his band, The Attractions (Pete Thomas, drums; Bruce Thomas, bass; Steve Mason, keyboards), although excellent, provided only basic backup.
Costello was the antithesis of a rock star. He wore loafers, black slacks, a rumpled suitcoat, a new vest, shirt and tie. He had short hair and black-rimmed glasses.
He meant business and the emphasis was on music. His songs were exciting, creative, intelligent, and full of the kind of rebellious spirit that has produced the best rock songs since the '50s.
A lot of his inspiration comes from the political situation in his native Britain. "Less Than Zero," one of his best songs, was a reaction to seeing Oswald Mosley, the wartime British Nazi leader, on TV. "Night Rally," one of many unrecorded songs he performed, was about the recent rise of the fascist National Front in Britain.
But it wasn't politics the crowd reacted to so much as the urgency, determination and power of the music. The songs were short — two or three minutes —intense and full of compelling rhythms and individual style.
One of his strongest shots, "Radio, Radio," was aimed at established bands like Fleetwood Mac that dominate the airwaves. "Lipstick Vogue" and "Girl" were venomous attacks on fashion and glamour. "Mystery Dance" was an expression of teenage frustration, while "Little Triggers" and "You Belong to Me" were classic upbeat rock songs.
"Watching the Detectives," perhaps his best, brought almost all audience to its feet. During "Put It Up," the last song, he demanded that the rest stand up, too. And they did.
After a long wait, during which all but the most fanatic fans left, he returned for one encore of "Miracle Man."
"We'll see you sometime again 'ere," he said at the end. Yes you will, Elvis, yes you will.