Sounds, September 25, 1982

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Elvis Costello And The Attractions


Philip Hackman

Some kind of enthusiasm is driving like a maniac through a pitch black Sunday evening in pursuit of the second date on Elvis Costello's new tour. Some kind of dedication is... having to go to Oxford because the Birmingham date is plumb sold-out. Some kind of disappointment is... well, that comes later.

The venue is taut with the expectation of people deprived of a home-grown hero for too long; ready and willing for anything. The staging is pared and businesslike. Costello looks determined and commanding new specs and typically ill-fitting suit aside), placed firmly between Steve the piano and Bruce the bass, drummer Pete Thomas on a small riser a few feet behind.

No histrionics, no distractions. The lighting is uncluttered; simple washes of pure mauve, blue, green, and white. As always with Costello, the songs are everything.

Speaking as someone who's been enthused, inspired, astounded, amused, and never less than intrigued by Elvis Costello for nearly five years, speaking as the first person I knew who bought "Less Than Zero," speaking as someone left quivering by "Sweet Dreams" on Russell Harty's show ... how can I tell you that this evening left me cold and confused, feeling like I'd just been forced to listen to a horribly, carelessly compressed K Tel Costello?

How can I tell you, with so many EC compositions buried forever in my heart, that the only thing which moved me was the stunning, piano-driven arrangement of "Good Year For The Roses"? When Costello twisted the phrasing so acutely that it actually hurt, but how can I tell you? Nobody else agreed. Nobody else felt my loss.

Another view would see this as a wonderfully erratic pick 'n mix through Costello's massive, magnificent back pages.

No let-up, no pauses — he didn't even announce titles — as though the long absence had made them desperate to spit out their heady reservoir. They came tumbling out, as though Costello felt a tightly-cropped selection couldn't do him true justice.

I counted 21 songs in 65 minutes and I missed the first quarter!

Cranked up to this pace, the finer nuances land EC is nothing if not a master of the fine nuance) were all but lost in the rush.

And the sight of Bruce Thomas banging senselessly on his bass while Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas flurried around those grand drum and keyboard finales that a million duffo "rawk and roll" bands use to whip up bogus excitement was just too disheartening to bear.

This isn't to say that the evening was a failure (too many people thought otherwise), merely that it offered nothing of what I listen to EC's albums for — texture, mood, depth, the subtly shifting emphasis of a master wordsmith.

Costello on record, Costello live. A massive leap I don't understand, a loss of sensitivity I can't face. In future, I'll stick to my stereo.

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Sounds, September 25, 1982

Philip Hackman reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Sunday, September 12, 1982, Apollo Theatre, Oxford, England.


1982-09-25 Sounds clipping 01.jpg
Clipping composite.

1982-09-25 Sounds cover.jpg


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