Sounds, January 28, 1978

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The rise and rise of the perennial wimp

Elvis Costello, Whirlwind, Soft Boys / Roundhouse

Jon Savage

A nite of diversity — preservation/innovation — covering a wider range of music than is usual at these affairs. An indication of the complex, stubbornly uncategorisable talent of the headline act.

Things being in a state of flux, the Soft Boys got a warmer reception than they would have say six months ago when the guidelines were down. Whatever, their music is contemporary in its energy and intensity: beyond that, they draw from a wider range of sources than many emerging bands.

The resulting sound is quirky, quick in time changes, zany humour lit up by Haight Street flashes over a rock hard base. Lead singer is confident, communicates (or tries to) with the audience: finally where they're going: (Although a direction becomes clearer): visually for instance the voice and lead guitarist don't bother very much, leaving the bassist looking as though he tries too hard. The strands are not yet pulled together ..... (time)...

Whirlwind however know exactly what they're after and they've got there already. The trouble is, what next? Knowing little about rockabilly as she is played live, it's only possible for these eyes to say that they looked amazing — pure style frame freezed and caught to perfection — but that after half an hour of purist (?) rockabilly it was very easy to get bored. It wasn't home ground — the band acted with faultless restraint in the face of a suspicious audience occasionally free with the gob — and worked hard to win that audience over for an encore. Sound was sharp and clean — slapping rim-shots, ringing guitar. Difficult not to move to the songs classic — "Slow Down" "Honey Don't" "I Wanna Play Heult With You" and some orriginals - the band moved in perfect style, but the old questions going back to the Wild Angels remain: how to move out from preservation of a music that's twenty years old. Granted, Whirlwind probably aren't too bothered with moving on, but do they play it until they die? Again, it's a totally different attitude — style/faithfulness — but the limitations can't be escaped..

Since his last tour, Elvis has been to America and it's given access to a lot more authority and intensity. Although in his music he draws from American sources (ROB78), he's very English. His act and songs deal in frustration, aggression, tight mean revenge. Small, neat, enormous horn-rims under a shock of hair, he's the perennial wimp - "I don't wanna be your lover / just wanna be your victim" — but shot to stardom. And revelling in it, the power especially — "You belong to me" — the intensity of having the tables turned so quickly and successfully makes him very compelling. He's now in a position to act out his and the audience's fantasies: from his (deserved) popularity, he's struck a chord. .....

But musically the band are very tight, high register organ (Vox?) the staple of the sound. Rhythm section rock solid. Image: non-descript, neat too. The songs are at one familiar and timeless: Costello has the enviable knack of turning pop cliches on their head and coming up with something new. Veering towards quality rather than throwaway.

Tonite he's totally in command, arrogant, revelling in new found assurance and expression. His movements arc angular, full of jerky, awkward grace as he hunches over, leans his arms over his guitar, cajoling, threatening. His way of exciting the crowd is to stare them out, keep them in his pocket as he delays singing the verses they want, standing motionless.

Material is (mostly) familiar: "Red Shoes," "less than zero," "Waiting for the end of the world," and newer songs like "Chelsea," "The Beat," Ian Dury's "Roadette song," "Night Rally," "No Action." Nearer the end, Elvis gets hyped up on the aggression implicit in his songs and the music, challenges some punx at the front who have been responding in kind. None of them take him up on his offer. During "Watching The Detectives" he works himself into paroxysms of frustration and anger, pacing the stage like a caged tiger, doubling over, exploding with tension.

"You wanna throw me away / but I'm not broken." No fast-fad. Elvis: he'll be around for a long time, he's got that drive and hunger/anger. To be respected, if not always liked. Tonight a powerful reaffirmation, and what's more for free (thanx to all concerned).....

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Sounds, January 28, 1978

Jon Savage reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with supporting acts The Soft Boys and Whirlwind, Friday, January 20, 1978, Roundhouse, London, England,


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