Elvis Costello and the Attractions appeared at the Tower Theater last Saturday and Sunday nights, nearing the completion of a tour marred by racist comments and 40-minute sets with white noise encores. At the Tower, however, Elvis behaved himself and performed a strong, exciting show that provided more evidence (to go along with his albums) that he deserves all the positive critical and commercial recognition he has received.
At the Sunday show, Costello played about half of his new LP, Armed Forces, in the 60-minute main set, along with several newer songs, a few cuts from his older albums and two previously released songs not readily available in the U.S. The sound was guitar-oriented, driven by Costello's rhythm guitar and Bruce Anderson's bass. Highlights included "Oliver's Army," "The Beat," "Watching the Detectives," and "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" (from the English version of This Year's Model, Most of these songs were expanded from their studio versions, with jerky, interweaving lines played by the guitar, bass and organ answering one another and the drums accenting the tension. The arrangements were helped by the playing of the Attractions, probably the most talented rhythm section in the New Wave.
Elvis rarely displayed much charismatic showmanship, preferring simply to stand behind the microphone and concentrate on singing. The use of lights provided much of the visual excitement, as an unlikely set of greens, pinks, and reds focused on Elvis, making him seem to glow in front of a murky background. During "Lipstick Vogue" lights were turned toward the audience, blinding them from what was happening on stage.
The house lights went on after the band left the stage, but the enthusiastic sell-out crowd thinned out only slightly. After persistent applause, Elvis returned and played another 20 minutes, including many of his older songs such as "Miracle Man," "No Action," "Mystery Dance" and "I'm Not Angry." His unexpected generosity may have been an attempt to counteract the bad publicity he has had lately (the songs on the PA system before his performance were entirely by black American musicians), because the tour was ending, or simply because Philadelphia has always been very receptive to him. He seemed to become more enthusiastic when playing the
encore's faster, sharper songs.
The concert was opened by the Rubinoos, a power pop band from California. They played the best cuts from their two albums, The Rubinoos and Back to the Drawing Board, as well as oldies by the Beatles, Ventures and Archies. Their song selection and performance were often fast and funny, but they received a mixed reaction from the crowd.