The Carolina Union was kind enough to give me two complimentary tickets to their Elvis Costello concert last Sunday night and so I went to the second rock concert in my life and hopefully my last. I probably admire Costello more than any musician around today, yet the terrible acoustics, droning amplifiers, crazed mobs of icon-seeking fans, Cincinnati-like dash into Carmichael Auditorium, the leaden performance of Squeeze (the lead-in group) and the nauseating feeling I am afflicted with whenever I feel enclosed by a crowd could not help but make me wonder why I had come in the first place. I love Elvis, but not that much.
Costello performed several selections from his new album, Trust, including "Luxemburg" and "Pretty Talk." He drilled through his repertoire insistently stopping only to take a drink and churn into the next song. He gave two encores and his performance of the old standard "Slippin' and Slidin'" was followed by his phenomenal "Watching the Detectives."
A great performance, I guess, but then I have never been a performance freak; never cared to measure how high Pete Townsend jumps. I was deaf and tired by the time Costello came out and still don't know whether I actually saw him or just a video projection of the master of urban angst.
Many people dressed in the height of new wave fashion — I wore the only clothes I own. Costello's thyroid stage mannerisms reminded me of Bobby Darin in a strange way. He would stop playing to deliver the final lyrical punch, snap his fingers and polemicize with his left leg.
Everyone seemed to get happy, though, making me an anomaly among the 4,000-plus crowd. Call me a whimpering Marlowe shouting, "the horror, the horror," if you like, but live rock and roll and the mass psychology that surrounds it frightens me. When Elvis sang "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?" I couldn't help but cringe at the irony of it all — the messianic qualities that people attribute to rock performers and the difficulties of individualism in an era of communal isolation.