Sewanee University Purple, September 14, 1984

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Elvis Costello, the Stray Cats and Nick Lowe

Vanderbilt University, Nashville

Dave Turnbow

About the only way it would have been financially feasible for Elvis Costello, the Stray Cats, and Nick Lowe to visit Nashville would be to put them on the same bill, and that's what Vandy Concerts did. I knew that Nicky and Elvira were touring together, and were by themselves a tempting attraction, but the possibility of seeing the Stray Cats for the same price of admission was too much for this aging fan. Thus, my first real weekend is Sewanee this semester was spent in Memorial Gym, battling dehydration and the three-foot-high stage barrier to catch perhaps my last glance at three great bands before my doctors put me on a respirator.

At about eight o'clock sharp, out he came: the man, the legend, the myth, imbiber of lots o' beer, the Basher, former member of everybody's favorite band (Rockpile), producer of everyone not produced by Brian Eno and Todd Rundgren (Elvis C. himself, the Fat T-Birds, an innumererable instantly forgettable bads that recorded for Stiff), and, just to show that I did my research, he came complete with his Cowboy Outfit, formerly the Chaps, formerly something else (Paul Carrack, keyboards, vocals; Martin Belmont, guitar; Bobby Irwin, drums). For the next fourty minutes, those crazy pub-rockers put on a show that made all those people passing out from heat exhaustion forget their thirst momentarily. From "Stick It (Where the Sun Don't Shine)" to "Raving Eyes" to "Switchboard Susan" to "Burning," Nicky and Outfit tore the place up. Marty's driving stratocaster more than adequately substituted for those darned acoustic guitars that Nick bads his albums with. However, Paul Carrack's songs, probably more familiar to Americans than Nicky's silly love songs, stole the show: "Tempted" (from his stint with Squeeze), and "How Long" (while with Ace), were very well received. And whatever happened to Rod Stewart?

One relatively quick set change later, we the audience are treated to an hour-long dose of what the Stray Cats do better that anyone else in the revamped rockabilly scene: they rock out. The four of them (they picked up a sray guitarist along the way) kept up the firey pace Nick's set set. Forget their videos: these guys can play and play well. Despite their youthful image (that is, teenagers), they come off as credible partyers, and those in the crowd who were still conscious were more than willing to party with them. Apparently, this being the end of their tour (Brian's voice was hoarse) they dropped some of their more soulful songs (read: slower) and instead performed newer stuff written while on tour. Though lacking in familiarity and polish, the newer songs definitely did not lack in energy. A thoroughly fun time was had by all.

Elvis Costello. What can be said about this man that already hasn't been said? Not much, so I'll be brief. Saw him on Imperial Bedroom tour and was quite impressed. The band comes out. Elvis hits Steve Nieve in the head with his guitar. Not a good start. Okay, wait. They're almost ready. Good. They go right to the meaty stuff: a loud and sloppy version of "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding", a Nick Lowe song from the American release of Armed Forces. "Lipstick Vogue" follows and it's not getting any better. Elvis, as those close enough to tell, was of a heavier frame than the Imposter is known for. Bruce Thomas on bass was even more so. Keyboardist Steve Nieve never seemed to recover from that blow Elvis put to his skull; looking like Lennon a la 1973, it appeared the heat had definitely fried his brain, resulting in occasional lapse of memory, especially concerned with what song and key they were supposed to be playing. Pete Thomas, on drums, tried his damndest to make the Attractions sound remotely so, but it was a losing battle. Elvis must be quite proud of his most recent material, judging by the song selection. I counted two songs each from Armed Forces and Imperial Bedrooms, his two best albums. Unfortunately, nothing quite jelled this noche, and I had to be consulted by friends that his new album isn't as bad as it sounded live.

It was during Elvis' part of the triple-header that the oft-mentioned inherent acoustic problems made their debut. And they came with the help of an absolutely mystifying sound mix. During the second half of this show, I had covered the entire place, and had found that the sound was best heard sitting in the grass outside the Gym. It was also thirty degrees cooler out there. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Elvis finished the set, and he and the Attractions left the stage. But no, here comes the El again, this time with the Attractions, and they go through one of their patened twentyfive minute encores. Surprise time. For those of you blessed enough not to have your MTV, Elvis has this song, see. And, like, Daryl Hall, you know, that guy who sings all those great songs with that short greasy dude? Well, he teamed with Elvis on record ad video for "Only Flame in Town". And, since it's got two great songwriters together, it's bound to be the greatest song ever written, right? So, Elvis figures, you probably won't be able to get enough of it. Thus, we the audience got to hear it again during encore number two. Apart from this artistic attempt to satisfy our carnal lust for such a wonderful song, the encore songs had snap and, lo and behold, a little excitement. My guess is that Nicky, Marty, Bobby, Brian, Slim Jim, and anyone who cared at one time or another for Elvis, got together and told him to put away the sheet music and to remember us to the audience. Or maybe he saw the rodie in the T-shirt that read "!#&% art, let's dance." Ol' Declan showed us there's still life in him yet. Alas, it was too little too late, though it did comfort the remaining few, those of infinite hope. As I hinted at before, by the time the "Pump It Up" medley had been completed I was really enjoying the night sky outside Memorial Gym, reflecting on metaphysical matters, and arriving that the touring days of Elvis Costello and the Attractions are numbered. He already has a critically and popularly acclaimed solo tour under his belt. As the arrangements become more complex and rely more upon the wonders of the studio to bring them to life; as form wins over substance; as Vegas approaches Elvis, we the audience will spend our concert money elsewhere. And whatever happened to the Beatles?


The Sewanee Purple, September 14, 1984

Dave Turnbow reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions and opening acts Stray Cats and Nick Lowe, Saturday, September 1, 1984, Memorial Gym, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.


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Clipping composite.

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Page scans.


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