University of Calgary VOX, November 1984

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Elvis Costello And The Attractions

Hammersmith Palais

Kelly Hellwig

Monday evening about quarter of seven. Waiting at the Swiss Cottage tube station for the next train. I look at the piece of paper I'm carrying in my breast pocket and it echoes the information printed above. Odd, there is no rushing excitement. No surge of adrenalin. Just an overall feeling of complacency. Terry asks me what I think the show will be like. I tell him I think it's going to be a good show. Terry agrees just as a train pulls into the station with a blast of air that should not exist one hundred feet underground. Six or seven quick stops to the Hammersmith station and again I look at the pale green ticket and wonder where the excitement is.

The Palais is difficult to describe. Suffice to say it looks like your basic 1940's dance hall. Not to say it is small (it can handle 2000 people) but an older friend of mine commented on how she used to go dancing at the Palais to the big bands many years ago. We walk in and there is some unheard of pseudo-country and western band on stage. I am not impressed. Time to get a beer and await the arrival of Elvis. A while later this band clears off the stage and we decide it's time to stake out our territory on the floor. We get within thirty feet of the stage, plant our feet and wait. Not long afterwards another lacklustre band appears on stage. We assume there must be more than one warm-up band and this must be the other one. Again, I am terribly unimpressed. Perhaps it would help if their bassist played more than one string or their guitarist stretched and used an E chord. To say the least they were bad except for their fife player (I assume it was a fife, might have been a recorder). This man was talented enough to provide backing percussion by wacking himself on the head with a TV tray. That was the highlight of this band. To this day I don't know the names of these two groups. Perhaps it's better this way.

With the preliminaries out of the way, we wait trying to hold onto the shrinking floorspace that is left to us. At nine o'clock, almost to the minute, Elvis and the Attractions casually stroll on stage. The crowd goes wild (sorry about the cliche). Elvis is, as always, dressed in a Nick Lowe cowboy suit, complete with bolo tie. Steve Nieve saunters to his keyboards looking for all the world like a dissident Czechoslovakian poet. I still do not know how Steve managed to play brilliantly all night and yet maintain a constantly lit cigarette between his lips throughout the entire performance. Bruce and Peter Thomas are obviously the reserved members of this quartet. Shunning the rock star image for the J.C. Penny look. They knew what was before them and preferred to be comfortable rather than stunning. Elvis Costello's speaking voice cannot be described as smooth. It has gruff overtones that definitely accentuate his singing. When he spoke into the microphone he sounded like hell. He explained that his voice had given out on him the previous night.

Now with his throat in this condition you would expect a short show. Perhaps forty five minutes long. We couldn't have been more wrong.

The show begins, not with a bang nor with a whimper. For the life of me I cannot remember the first song they did. (It has been more than a month and I think I left my original notes in Greece.) It starts out pleasantly enough, but with such powerfully delivered songs as "Welcome to the Working Week," the cosmic/ psychic/physical energy levels of the crowd were well affected. Here was the excitement. Here was the sheer power, the sheer energy that a man barely five foot eight could exude. During his ballads, "Alison" and "Only Flame in Town" the energy was not diminished, but replaced by an emotional charge that I hesitate to call sentimental because of the mushy overtones that word has. The first half of the show ended about forty-five minutes with the lead walking off stage for a cup of tea. Elvis' voice sounded worse. The crowd would not settle down until they were assured he would be returning after a five minute break. I took this opportunity to talk to Terry, who had been standing beside me, all this time, and ask his opinion. "Incredible, absolutely incredible. I was looking forward to a good show, but this is a great show." I could only nod in agreement.

The second half started with a bang, not a whimper. My personal highlight was "Mystery Dance." "I wanna know about the mystery dance, Why don't you tell me about the mystery dance, I wanna know because I tried and I tried and I'm still mystified, I can't do it anymore and I'm not satisfied." I dared myself to stop dancing. I consciously made the effort and succeeded only to discover a few moments later I was dancing again. This man is a maniac. How does he manage to support the thrust of energy he delivered? How, through songs like "Crawling to the U.S.A." and "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes"? The second set ends after forty three minutes. The highlight of the show had yet to come. Elvis had not performed "Everyday I Write the Book," so I suspected an encore was to be. That is, if the crowd wanted to hear more. So with your basic crowd noises of 'MORE' and synchronized hand clapping, we waited. It took longer than I expected, but eventually the band returned and did "Everyday I Write the Book" (psychic, eh?) and one other that I can't remember (I've lost my notes.) Again they walk off and again the crowd refuses to leave. If anything they are more adamant about hearing more, Soon Elvis appears. This time alone! One man, one guitar and one spotlight for a beautiful version of the Robert Wyatt tune "Ship Building," followed by an equally moving version of "Peace In our Time." The man is not known as a crooner and his voice Is not perfect, even when healthy. Yet these songs were urgent and pleading, especially "Peace in our Time," This ends encore number two and I would have thought the concert. Some begin to leave, but Terry and I wait, making basic crowd noise. Lo and behold, surprise, surprise, out walk the band for a third encore. A live version of "Pump It Up" that nearly seared my eyebrows off. The band makes a quick exit, the house lights come on and the show was over. Two sets of forty minutes a piece plus 3 encores gave us a show about two hours long. It was obvious that Elvis Costello and the Attractions came to play their music and to entertain. Not to strike rock and roll hero guitar poses for forty minutes and then collect half a million dollars. Sure Elvis Costello is a pompous dog, but from what I saw he has a right to be. The entire show was just too mind boggling.

In ten minutes we were outside, zipping down the tube station steps and I was humming "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight."

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VOX, No. 12, November 1984


Kelly Hellwig reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions and supporting acts The Men They Couldn't Hang and The Pogues, Monday, October 1, 1984, Hammersmith Palais, London, England.

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1984-11-00 University of Calgary VOX page 03.jpg
Page scan.

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