Sounds, January 8, 1983

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Mint imperial

Elvis Costello And The Attractions / Royal Albert Hall

Chris Burkham.

Whilst radio stations and television studios continually poured out a never-ending diet of jolly yuletide platitudes, dressed up as merry turkeys (Game For A Laugh? Game For A Con?) all the while, Elvis Costello carefully avoided issuing a torrent of inanities for the Mass of Christ.

Rather than celebrate the worthless bauble of "Xmas," the attention was drawn to the worth of his music and this reflected the differences between transparent joy-seeking and that of finding.

For Elvis Costello And The Attractions were able to shelter under varying moods, throw different shapes and play, sometimes, quite contrasting musics without once losing their grip on the listeners.

Elvis Costello is often, and with great justification, viewed as an excellent song-writer, with the emphasis on his lyrical aptitude — but seldom is the actual music highlighted. The music has purpose, it backs the lyrics and tempers their slight self-indulgences or extravagances.

It was the way that the songs were worked upon that gave them such shine; there was no room for doubt as that would have slackened the pace at which the songs were played.

It was not only the pace of whole songs that was so polished. Also, the different instruments were given more space in which they could stretch themselves, more space in which to prove themselves.

The piano might be making jazz noises one moment and switch into outright boogie-woogie the next. Steve Naive's piano-playing was strong enough to be taken out of its context and survive; with the other Attractions and Costello, the sound was vibrant and powered (as distinguished from being powerful, as the music was not rushed over-eagerly but treated with composure and self-assurance).

This almost casual air of playing that Costello portrayed, although he never became patronisingly chummy, suits him so much better than his earlier wired-up, angst driven young man. It has reflected in his work in the past, but Costello has to have reached a plateau of (some) fulfillment now.

Costello never allowed this feeling to become smug; from "Alison" through to "Shipbuilding" he constantly faked turns, changed direction, never quite settled down. These unexpected juxtapositions of certain songs — the old and new fit together surprisingly well — served to keep the tone on an "up" whatever mood may exist in each song.

It seemed that it was Costello's ambition to end the evening with the Albert Hall transformed into a dance hall, full of sweaty, mobile bodies. It was, I suppose, a fantastic ambition even if only because the grandeur of the Albert Hall can tend to belittle any other act.

Costello didn't lose to the architecture, but there were some moments when the frailty expressed in song mirrored the smallness of the human body against the massive building.

The dance floor that Costello and the Attractions were aiming for was almost realised as the last encore drew to a close. Had the show been played in a slightly less intimidating venue — it does have to be admitted that the Albert Hall did go some way to complementing some of the more low key songs — the reaction could have been more committed, a touch more in keeping with the fuelled-up, energised rock music that Costello was pulling out of his "party" hat.

And what did Santa Claus bring you?

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Sounds, January 8, 1983

Chris Burkham reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions with The Imperial Horns, Friday, December 24, Royal Albert Hall, London.


1983-01-08 Sounds page 25 clipping 01.jpg

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Cover and page scan.


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