The first time Elvis Costello played at the Theatre St. Denis was a very new and exciting experience for all who attended. From the minute he first stepped out on stage, when the evil red spotlight hit his tortured face and exaggerated his devilish features, he exuded sheer hatred as he spat out his anti-media/ establishment anthems with a power and intensity that made the audience cringe in their seats. This hatred was all-encompassing, extending itself towards the audience itself, stripping away the feeble insect carapace that hid the spectators' petty hypocrisy and jamming it right down their throats. If you didn't believe what he was saying, you had no right to sit there and cheer, you had no right to enjoy the music for its' own sake.
On stage, he had a presence so imposing that he could manipulate the crowd like putty. You were all a bunch of fucked-up bastards, he hated you because you were worse than the radio that he denounced so intensely in his ultimate hate-anthem, "Radio Radio." You were the sheep who allowed these people to exist, you were their bread and butter, and you'd just better get up off your asses and dance, beg his forgiveness and show that you were at least good for something.
After he got the audience up, that still wasn't enough. He played with them, teased them like a cat playfully battering a crippled mouse, prolonging its misery before viciously consuming it, head first. The entire audience grovelled at his feet, begging for a chance to redeem themselves. He wouldn't give in to them. Instead, he just dragged out a song at a slow, bluesy, casual pace for a few minutes before finally coming down on them with a nerve-shattering rendition of "Mystery Dance," and suddenly you could hear the tiny skulls splintering as they were mangled in the terrible jaws of his anger.
Apparently a lot of changes have occurred since then. With Elvis's second stab at the Montreal audience he again made us his victims, only this time not of his terrible anger but of some cruel joke. The vicious weapon that he had used to shatter the barriers between him and success had worked too well. He achieved his goal, but because he no longer had any barriers to surmount, the weapon, once fueled by intense hatred, anger, and a fanatical desire to succeed, now lies useless at his feet. He no longer lives the pain and intensity that forged his music, it's reduced to a modest stream of three-minute pieces of merchandise crooned out by some jaded Frank Sinatra. It no longer matters whether or not you believe in the music, as long as you buy the records....
In the first show, every element was thematically appropriate. The intensity of the music coupled with the pained voice and the lighting created a barrage of sound and vision that inspired both fear and respect for the little man on the stage. The lighting in his second show was still very clever, at points blacking. out Costello's features completely so that he appeared as a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out super-imposed against a brightly lit background.
He still possessed the awesome power to manipulate the audience, but this time it was only a toy, a cheap gimmick which he threw in halfway through "Pump it up," the last song he did before disappearing from the stage. Like Chinese food, the end of his meager set left a tiny nagging hunger, a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, and I suspected that there would be no encore. The crowd touched by his power, had risen to their feet as they had done before, only to see him disappear minutes later. I had a vague afterimage of Elvis' backlit figure, empty, black, two-dimensional faceless cutout against a bright, colourful back-ground.
There was no encore.