St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 29, 1994

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions expert,
precise in reprising their celebrated past

Jim Walsh

On the campus of the University of Minnesota on Friday night, one brainy pop-rock act, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, struggled to come to grips with its celebrated past, while the other, the Crash Test Dummies, attempted to do the same with its celebrated present.

One was successful. The other didn't come close.

Over a two-hour, 27-song performance that included three encores, Costello and the Attractions (keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas, and bassist Bruce Thomas) delivered a live reading of some of the finest songs the post-punk era has produced.

After firing off a five-song opening barrage of "No Action," "High Fidelity," "The Beat," "Beyond Belief," and "Sulky Girl," Costello finally stepped up to the mic to address the sold-out Northrop Auditorium crowd.

"Good evening," he said effusively. "It's been quite awhile."

Almost 10 years, to be exact. It was the first area performance by Costello since his Goodbye Cruel World tour played the Orpheum Theater in August 1984.

From the outset Friday night, Costello seemed intent on letting his material do the catching up for him. Which it did, for the most part. The songs were performed with expert precision, if not spontaneity or flat-out passion, and scant little between-songs stage chatter.

The bulk of the performance was culled from Costello's expansive back catalog. It included songs from his 1977 debut album, My Aim Is True, to his current album, Brutal Youth, and all points in between.

The highlight of the night came at the end of the main set, in which Costello married his past with his present. "Man Out of Time" segued into "Watching The Detectives," which bled into "You Belong to Me." When the band eased out of "13 Steps," Costello's current radio hit, and into his notorious anti-radio rant "Radio, Radio," it was virtually the same song, and the irony could have been cut with a knife.

Throughout the night, the crowd sat politely and watched Costello the way a roomful of researchers might study a bug under glass. It wasn't until the first encore of "Lipstick Vogue" that the crowd got anything close to boisterous. During the second encore, which included a stunning rendition of "Alison" and Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown," there was a kind of hush over Northrop. Finally, the entire place was on its feet for the duration of the last song, a rollicking feedback-drenched version of "Pump It Up."

But if the Northrop crowd behaved a little like headlight-shined deer, there's good reason: Costello's onslaught of clever couplets and well-crafted metaphors is overwhelming at times, and downright cold at others. His music, then, may be the kind of thing that translates better to headphones and lyric sheet study seminars than to big rock stages. They are cerebral, cynical songs coming from a cerebral, cynical man, but Costello allows his material to push him and his band along, and bring him and his audience to some kind of organic truth.

The Crash Test Dummies could learn a thing or two from the old man. Over their interminably ironic 40-minute set, the Winnipeg band seemed utterly mortified to be on stage, and overly wary of their chosen field of work. Singer/guitarist Brad Roberts is obviously uncomfortable with the band's newfound fame, and Friday night he made a point of making goofy faces and indulging in sarcastic show biz patter.

As such, Roberts, the man who sings like a cow, doesn't throw himself into his material so much as he endures it. All in all, the super self-conscious Crash Test Dummies played their songs exactly like their records (preciously, melodramatically), tried too hard to cop an anti-rock star image, smirked a lot and seemed embarrassed by the success of their single "Mmm, Mmm, Mmm." As well they should be.

Tags: Northrop AuditoriumMinneapolisMinnesotaThe AttractionsSteve NieveBruce ThomasPete ThomasNo ActionHigh FidelityThe BeatBeyond BeliefSulky GirlOrpheum TheaterGoodbye Cruel World tourMy Aim Is TrueBrutal YouthMan Out Of TimeWatching The DetectivesYou Belong To Me13 Steps Lead DownRadio, RadioLipstick VogueAlisonSmokey RobinsonTears Of A ClownPump It UpCrash Test Dummies

Copyright (c) 1994 St. Paul Pioneer Press

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St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 29, 1994

Jim Walsh reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions and opening act Crash Test Dummies, Friday, May 27, 1994, Northrop Auditorium, University Of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.


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