The yellow posters outside the Los Angeles Whisky and the yellow pins handed to the punters make him out a Buddy Holly figure who murders young ladies in showers. Very gawky, very jaundiced. Very sinister. He could have been anything. OK, so he has a hit record in England (so have the Sex Pistols and Abba, so that doesn't help). He doesn't look like a punk, so what the hell is he doing at the Whisky?
The man who quietly stepped behind the mike shoulders hunched with the weight of a big black guitar looked quite harmless, more like a bank teller than a psychopath; like Popeye before he'd had his spinach. Visual and eye-catching, if only in a negative way, in blue-grey jacket and trousers, black-rimmed NHS spectacles and a haircut that looks like a barber's nasty accident. No introductions, no hello-good-to-be-heres, just straight into the music, starting out this first show of a two-night stand in Hollywood with "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." Very good it was too, rolling along with a fine steady backbeat from The Attractions and strong vocals, surprisingly so, from a singer who seems intent on appearing a joke, if only to emphasise the fact that once he starts the music, the joke's on his detractors. Elvis Costello and his band play ripe, full rock 'n' roll.
"Alison," from the album, was introduced as "a song I haven't done for a while, about someone I used to care about". Elvis' voice comes across clearer and crisper on this down-tempo late-night radio number, demonstrating a quite good vocal range. Advancing to the front of the stage, Costello grasped the microphone with passion, the whole emotional outburst aided by some very pretty organ sounds (a cross between Stevie Winwood and Southend Pier). He looked quite at home on this excellent number, uneasier on the first of the rockers. Perhaps the former suits his polite innocent appearance better. You can imagine girl-next-door or shy-librarian groupies lining up at the stage door. He didn't hang about for the quite rapturous applause, launching straight into "Miracle Man," one of the best, with impressive keyboards, steady rhythm from the drums and controlled guitar from Elvis to rock it along.
"You Belong To Me" featured a more aggressive Elvis, sweat dripping from his forehead, raising a finger from the guitar to point and wag his finger at the audience (that and the contemptuous dropping of the lower lip being the only slight betrayals of punkish tendencies). Not quite wall of sound, it was nonetheless loud, full, brash and not to be ignored.
Grand finale was the British single, "Watching The Detectives." The show was short enough to hold your attention throughout, but not quite long enough (just eleven songs) to keep the punters happy. Heavy applause and calls for an encore did not bring Costello and band back for more. They were obviously resting up for the next show, a whole new set, promised manager Jake Rivera as he protected his protege from the press (thrown out on their ears backstage in San Francisco)
The queue for the second show was quite long. Tomorrow night, the final date here, it promises to be even longer. I don't know how Costello does it, but despite his why-is-this-happening-to-me, almost negative stance, he's turning out to be positively successful.