Well it was good while it lasted. The weird looking guy with glasses — Elvis Costello — shook some eardrums and played hard during his less-than-prolonged assault on a Berkeley Community Theater audience last Friday night. And though anyone who makes people start tearing up chairs and trashing various loose objects must not be all bad, Costello, at the end, left them limp — and it wasn't from exhaustion.
After a funny set from the opening act, the Rubinoos (anyone who plays "Sugar, Sugar" had better be funny), Costello and his band, the Attractions, rushed through a frantic set of 16 songs, mostly from Armed Forces, their latest album.
It was very much an anti-show. Costello refused to play any of his more familiar material, like "Alison" or "Watching the Detectives," and what he did play he did faster than the studio versions — which is pretty astonishing. Most of the songs were separated only by a couple of drum beats.
There was no pacing or showmanship to speak of here; Costello ran his diverse songs together in a constant attack. And undeniably, he and his band played well — for about 45 minutes, which is how long the show lasted.
When Elvis and his band ran off the stage after a strong version of "Radio, Radio," the audience just said to itself, "Costello is a very weird guy... hut then we knew that." And we yelled and clapped and stomped, and we booed the disco filler being played over the speakers to try to get him to come back out. Finally, after half an hour or so of this, someone had enough grace to tell the audience that the show was over.
Then the "rioting" started, but it was rather sad and half-hearted; Costello, in the end, couldn't even piss people off properly.
So maybe Costello does hate America, as he has insinuated in the past; he's been pulling this same number everywhere on this latest tour.
On his records, Costello, along with Nick Lowe and a few others, is bringing back (and with the proper vengeance) pop that's worth a damn, and he's getting better all the time. Yet the road's where you really have got to prove yourself.
So what are you supposed to do with this guy?
This concert made a lot of people care a lot less about the answer to that question.
"Long live disco!" I guess.