His aim is true.
On Friday last, Seattle's Paramount theatre was host to Elvis Costello. He is indisputable proof that there is a popular new wave of rock and roll in the world today, and the fans say, "that is good".
He is not a part of mainstream rock. He does not try to write songs that appeal to the fantasies or egos of your basic pubescent rock fan.
What he does, however is write tremendously high energy songs about unrequited love, an occupation unheard of in rock and roll of late. He is thus the latest and possibly the most important addition to a long line of rock misogynists that began with his namesake calling some girl a hound dog.
He opened by devastating the audience with a short sizzler off of My Aim is True called "Mystery Dance." Against the powerful stutter of his rhythm section, he recalls: "Well I remember when the lights went out / I was tryin' to make it look like I was never in doubt / She thought that I knew and I thought that she knew / So both of us were willin' but we didn't know how to do it / Why don't you tell me 'bout the mystery dance / I wanna know about the mystery dance..."
Costello's stage performance is kind of scary. He makes you think of that quiet little whimp from high school days who sat at the back and never seemed to wash his hair. Now he is a rock star.
But beyond his lyrics and appearance lies his essential understanding of the rock and roll medium. This is displayed by the absence of the classic trappings of '70's rock, for Costello takes rock back to when it was more a message than a package of technical gloss, or some aborted work of grand art. There was no laser display; no horn section; his drummer played a basic set of drums (and shit could he play them); his keyboard man played a simple organ, not a synthesizer; there were no solos, except for his own mad forays; and no light show — not even a spotlight on the main man.
The message is basically of bitterness and rejection. The main question is, can he stay true to his style in the months to come when he is loved and accepted? Probably. As he once said, "I'm an extraordinarily bitter person."