"What I choose to do is a matter of life and death to me, but I don't choose to explain it. I'm more interested in undermining whatever impressions people have of me." — Elvis Costello.
Elvis Is Prince.
Only one album to his credit, and a reputation for eccentricity, hostility and rock 'n' roll.
But the word was out: The Canadian debut of this odd little man would be an Event.
It has happened In other cities too — he crams a club where he might not exceed half a hall, and the media marvel.
Some of the people who saw him at the El Mocambo Monday night had been sluicing their innards with brew for 10 hours by the time he came on. Latecomers had been fighting frostbite outside from 4 p.m. when the downstairs bar reached capacity.
With such commitment on the part of the ~audience, how could an entertainer fail?
Sure enough, when he finally took the stage at 11:30, he was greeted by the sort of ovation that most performers have to sweat for.
But this time he gave people more than any fan could reasonably have expected.
Mystery Dance. Waiting For The End Of The World. Welcome To The Working Week. Less Than Zero. Four favorites in a row from the album, propelled right out of the grooves Into fresh immediacy.
Then new songs. Twisted ditties destined for This Year's Model, scheduled for release in May. He sang them gratingly, grippingly, spitting out surreal images, working himself into a spastic rage. And they were cheered as fervently as the "oldies." (Album Two ss going to be a flame-thrower.)
After 45 breathless minutes, the set was over. But moat of those minutes had been much more memorable than at his New York debut not three months ago.
In the interim Elvis seems to have discovered the Sixties. The taut rock 'n' roll basics of his Fifties sound were spiced with distilled psychedelia and flashes of progressive-rock theatre in the best marriage of decades past since Bruce Springsteen.
As well, the flat eccentricity of his New York performance has been turned into three-dimensional character. He's still Prince Charmless, unsmiling, obsessed, snarling at the audience to respond from a standing position. But he seemed to be sharing real pain instead of grinding out recollections of bitter words. And the discipline of the musicians (Bruce and Pete Thomas on bass and drums, Steve Naive on keyboards) was energized by his effort.
Eventually the amplifiers were slammed into distort and the dynamics of the performance were crushed back into two dimensions, but the first half hour had been as exciting musically as any half hour in many months.
Then, after the crowd had raved for awhile, he induced a fellow named Nick Lowe to take over lead vocals and lead guitar for three encores. Most people seemed to find It an anticlimax (partly because of the continued distortion), but most people didn't remember that Nick Lowe is far more than just Elvis Costello's producer.
For years Lowe was a leading light of British cult band and pub-rock forerunner Brinsley Schwarz, and now he has a solo album out on Radar there called Jesus Of Cool, which is receiving second-coming notices In the British popmags. (There will be a new Nick Lowe album called Pure Pop For Now People released in North America In a couple of months, presumably same rose, other name.)
Plans call for him to return to Toronto on a triple bill with Mink DeVille and Elvis Costello, possibly at Massey Hall, probably in May. Stay tuned.