Look, he tells you himself, "I'm not angry. I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused."
So forget the barrage of media bullshit which deifies him as the venomous spokesman of anarchist misogynists. Elvis Costello is not a leader of the new wave, but rather occupies that separate world populated by the Dylans, Springsteens and Morrisons. A unique world view fused with vital angry timeless rock and roll.
And Costello's brilliant performance Friday night at the Concert Bowl showed that he is rapidly out distancing the old guard. It was an amazing 45 minutes, filled with pathos and humour, ballads and gut thumping rock.
The albums are good, but it is the live performances at which Costello excels. The Attractions are incredibly tight, yet there is no sign of slick professionalism — instead a nervousness runs through the music constantly threatening destruction.
The concert also emphasized Costello's songwriting abilities. The tension in the band carried over into the song structure, causing them to be at once tightened and expanded within the new restricted structure. Costello's ability with the narrative (as in "Watching the Detectives"), and his capacity for the observation and utilization of seemingly common place events allow the lyrics to match the music's standard.
Finally, there is Costello himself. A riveting stage presence is combined with a versatile powerful voice.
The songs from the first album have never sounded better, the Farfisa organ filling out the rather sparse compositions. "Mystery Dance," "Red Shoes," "Detectives" and for the first, and last time, on the tour, "Alison" ("My aim is true"). Costello ripped away the maudlin sentimentality with which Linda Ronstadt has destroyed the song and filled it with a genuine pain.
"Lipstick Vogue" was superb, dynamic lighting emphasizing the incessant, driving nature of the song. "Sometimes I think that love is just a tumour — you've got to cut it out." Great drumming, and a stunning climax, Costello, silhouetted by a single red light, whispering then shouting the final words.
However, the high point of the show was the extended version of "I Don't want to Go to Chelsea" (from the British This Year's Model.) Begging with a catchy, syncopated organ riff, Costello's nightmare lead guitar ripped the song open. The lyrics are a surrealistic account of one person's journey into the hated world of conformity. Costello does not so much shout the words in defiance as let them trickle out in resignation.
The only fault I could find with the concert was the rather perfunctory renditions of some of the tunes, particularly "Radio, Radio" and "I'm Not Angry." However, Costello's low points are still far ahead of most performer's high ones.
Almost as satisfying as Costello's performance was the performance of the Concert Bowl. The view was excellent from all parts of the building and my fears of a lack of intimacy were quickly laid to rest by the excellent stage setup. Although the drums and the vocals predominated the mix, the actual sound clarity was far above the usual muddy Coliseum standards.
Given the success of the Costello concert, Vancouver might be seeing more bands in the Concert Bowl as the 6,000 capacity is ideal for those acts too big to play the Gardens and too small the Coliseum.
Not so thrilling was the set by Battered Wives. Idiotic songs, pretty boy punk posturing and mutilated covers (if one more band tries "You Really Got Me," I'll shoot them), were all part of a pathetic performance. It may be fun to the people on the prairies, but any of the Vancouver new wave acts would have blown them away. Write them off as more Toronto hype.