Elvis Costello's popularity in America seems to be steadily increasing. He is currently winding up his U.S. tour. Armed Forces, his third album, has been favorably reviewed and is selling well. This release followed, in relatively quick succession, that of My Aim is True and This Year's Model (1977 and early 1978, respectively).
Now, those interested in music appear to be divided into fanatic fans and those listeners who are disdainful, indifferent, or regard him as weird. No doubt his appearance on his first album cover — black-framed glasses, unruly dark hair, rolled up jeans, his peculiar stance — helps to convey that impression. He was seen by many at that time as just another punk rocker, although his first singles, "Alison" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" received much attention. I remember one of my friends telling me about Elvis Costello's appearance at Brown last year. Few people had attended the concert, and it seemed possible that Elvis could be a passing phenomenon. This is no longer true.
Elvis Costello (not his real name) is twenty-three, British, and, according to People Magazine, "has a '50s look, and early '60s lover-boy voice, and a '70s punk attitude." He writes nearly all his own material. His songs which are melodically satisfying, often have real rocking beat, and significant lyrics. Costello plays with words, transforming expressions and phrases in a sophisticated style, to give them an ironic twist. This device is especially evident in his latest album. In "Accidents Will Happen," he used the phrase, "Your mind is made up but your mouth is undone," reversing it later in the song: "Your mouth is made up but your mind is undone." In another song, "Party Girl," he casually sings, "I'm in a griplike vice." It takes awhile to realize that the normal expression is "vicelike grip." And in "Senior Service": "It's a death that's worse than fate." Elvis Costello's lyrics can be complex and thought-provoking. Reviewers have also commented on the contrast in some of the songs between a gentle melody and such biting lyrics as "There's so many people to see, so many people you can check upon and add to your collection, but they keep you hanging on, until you're well hung."
This admittedly superficial review was the preface to an account of the recent big event for all Costello fans in the area. This was namely his appearance (with his band The Attractions, of course) at the Hard Rock Cafe. Before going to the concert, I had heard many reports of previous concerts on this tour, and read some reviews in Rolling Stone. This magazine mentioned his controlled energy, and his careful yet vibrating performance. They even compared him to Bruce Springsteen in some aspects of his style.
I went to the concert psyched to see Costello, and I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed hearing him live, and I appreciate his talent. When my friend Lynn and I arrived, however, we had to wait an hour in line as they slowly let people in. During this time, a guy dressed up as Elvis ran by. Shortly after we got in, we heard the Rubinoos, a four-man band from California. They played for about half an hour, but they realized their unfortunate situation as a warm-up band. One Rubinoo commented, "I know you're all here to see Elvis."
The setup of the Hard Rock Cafe is basically a stage and a large open area where everyone stands. Beyond this are bars and tables. As the Rubinoos act came to an end, many people kept trying to get closer to the stage, so as to be in a good spot to see Elvis. The result was a very hot room with a lot of people close together — not too good for those under 5'6" (or those with claustrophobia). One guy standing near me, about 6'4" said to his friend, "I feel guilty being so tall."
After waiting a long time, and still no Elvis, people began shouting "Elvis!" between the songs on the background tape. A man came out and said they expected him any minute. He was coming from New York. About forty-five minutes later, Elvis Costello and the Attractions came on, starting right in with "Goon Squad." Elvis wore a black shirt and a black and white checked jacket. He took the jacket off after a couple of songs because it was so hot. He apologized for being late, saying they'd gotten caught in traffic. I had to keep standing on tiptoe to see him, but I was pretty close to the stage and had a good view most of the time. He did a lot of songs from his last two albums, and "Alison" and "Watching the Detectives" from his first. When he began songs like "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea" and "Accidents Will Happen," people applauded wildly in recognition.
After about en hour, he went off, but came back for two encores. These were frantically yelled for by the excited participants. First he did one of my favorite songs, "Mystery Dance" and then a rocking number, "Pump It Up."
He certainly gave an impressive concert, and to a devoted fan like me, the heat and discomfort of all the people meant nothing compared to the opportunity to see Elvis Costello. From the reaction of the people around me, many others were just as excited by Costello's brilliant and energetic performance.