It could have been the fish and chips before the gig — the atmospheric seaside fare I ate left me feeling a bit queasy. Or maybe Elvis succumbed to the greasy doughnuts they were selling outside the entrance to the Pier Pavilion — I managed to resist them for a while and when I went back and asked the guy on the gate if I could pop out and buy one he looked at as though I was a mental case.
At all events, something about Hastings disagreed violently with Elvis Costello. Whatever enthusiasm he'd started out with at the beginning of the gig had dissipated after three or four numbers and reached its nadir when he came to a grinding mental halt at the start of "Alison" and had to take an unscheduled break. He came back and finished the set but it was clear that his mind had only a tenuous grip on the proceedings.
And things looked promising enough when the uncomfortable glare of the "tasteful" neon fittings were doused and the crowd "got down," Hastings fashion. Though maybe we should have been warned by the joke Elvis started with about being careful not to jump up and down too much "In case we fall into the sea below" (ho ho). Once into their stride "Green Shirt" and "Girls Talk" got everyone moving on stage and out front. On "Lip Service" the bass flipped up high and taut and took the number into dub realms. It was starting to look as if the chances to try out new ideas away from the big city audiences was starting to pay off.
But "King Horse" dragged the set down again because it needed Elvis to carry off the song against the cooler backing and he was only intermittently giving it his attention. Even so the clanking Yamaha piano did its best to pull things round.
Elvis announced "Alison" but I don't think he got past the first line before he stopped and stared blankly, scratching his head again. The band carried on through the verse and a roadie stepped up to Elvis and after a short consultation removed his guitar and led him out. The Attractions finished the verse and stopped. Bruce Thomas said "Something's up, we'll just go off a minute" and a few seconds later we were listening to more tracks from Otis Redding that'd warmed us up earlier.
We hung around in semi-darkness for six or seven minutes and then he came back to a cheer. "Sorry about that folks. I lost my mind for a bit" he said with a grimace and launched straight into "Watching The Detectives." But remembering the lyrics to that was still something of an effort and his voice sounded strained. He got still more scrambled during "Possession" and "High Fidelity" as the Attractions hurried along nervously.
"You Belong To Me" at least got everyone back to more familiar territory and began to pick up some of the threads but towards the end Elvis' voice again creaked at the seams and he started warbling almost as a grotesque parody of himself. There may have been more songs planned but the set closed at that point.
I was highly dubious about the prospects of getting an encore but the old showbiz maxims that must be an integral part of the Pavilion structure finally had their effect and Elvis trooped back. "We're not very well tonight but thanks," he smiled and revived some flagging spirits with "Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and finally made the crowd feel like they were at Top Of The Pops with "Oliver's Army." They were happy at least with the shoddy performance, a fact that can't have improved Elvis' humour any.
He'd looked tired but not desperately so. Mostly he'd just looked distant and mentally disenchanted. He'd try things on guitar but not have the patience to finish them offend end them with a few off-key chords. And his voice was definitely giving him trouble although whether that was down to larynx or lyrics wasn't always clear. But he was definitely more coherent between songs than he was during them.