Declan Patrick MacManus, a.k.a. Elvis Costello, and his band the Attractions gave Chapel Hill's pin tie and black glasses crowd a rousing concert Sunday night in Carmichael Auditorium.
Singing with a soft nasal voice and defying gravity with that strange pigeon-toed stance of his, Costello led an enthusiastic crowd of more than 4,700 through an hour and a half set.
He played a wide variety of songs ranging from slow ballads to rapid-paced rockers with a Bo Diddley beat. He also mixed old favorites with material from a new album not yet released in North Carolina.
The concert was also the setting for the now-all-too-familiar battle of musician versus Carmichael Auditorium. Mixing problems and bad acoustics were difficulties for Costello all night. His guitar was occasionally lost in the muddle and his vocals were often undecipherable, a problem which was only partially remedied when he dropped his tone to a quieter tact. The crowd left the concert not knowing what a great bass player the Attractions have. Visually, you could tell that he was playing four, five notes in a row, but it often came out as one loud mess. Only Steve Nason's electric piano was free from the problem. A friend with me found that by putting his fingers in his ears he could reduce the feedback immensely and render the vocals decipherable.
Such problems would have sunk a lesser group, but not the Attractions. They exhibited a tightness characteristic of British groups and played off each other with virtuoso style.
As usual, out in front was Costello. He seems to have shed his paranoid public image and though he maintained distance from the audience, he was able to generate an atmosphere of warmth with the crowd. Costello rewarded the crowd's enthusiasm with a double encore of six songs ending to a mass of bobbing heads and bodies on the floor with "Pump It Up."
Costello crammed more than 20 songs into the set. Few songs lasted longer than four minutes, exemplifying the emphasis of group sound over individual. Guitar solos, with the notable exception of a wonderfully berserk solo by Costello on "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea," were foregone for interplays between guitar, keyboard and bass.
It may have been simply because of familiarity, but the old songs seem to have played with a little extra power. Late in the set "Radio, Radio" brought an overwhelming response from the crowd and earlier highlights were exciting renditions of "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding," "Oliver's Army" and "I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea." The latter was transformed into an upbeat, almost funky tune that was particularly enjoyable.
Squeeze opened the show with a 40-minute set. Although beset by the same problems the Attractions had, the show came off well, setting an upbeat tempo that prepared the crowd for Costello.