University of Chattanooga Echo, March 23, 1979

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Elvis Costello emerges from
no man's land with subtlety

David Gomien

"We've just gotten out of no man's land and it's really good to be here in Nashville, Tennessee," welcomed Elvis Costello after his first few numbers at his March 12 Nashville concert appearance. "No man's land" is Costello's phrase for the mental anguish and exhaustion felt between two periods in a person's life; in this context he was talking about the time spent in between concert dates, spinning down miles of road in his chartered touring bus.

Elvis Costello came out of no man's and with a bang March 12 as he and his band, the Attractions, hammered out 13 songs in rapid succession before coming out for encores. Elvis relied heavily on material from Armed Forces, his newest and most popular album. Starting off the show with a heavy rock version of "Accidents will Happen" he covered much of the contents from that disc before the evening was over.

For someone who has only seen Elvis on his few television appearances, seeing him in concert was full of surprises. Gone were his broken-leg, lock-kneed "rage dances" and performing stance. Gone were the fits of rage so apparent on his Saturday Night Live appearance. In his three years of performing, Elvis has learned a new trick that gives his music all the more impact — subtlety.

Although subtlety is not embraced by most new wave bands, Elvis and the Attractions harness all their energy into music with an impact that's immediately felt and rarely forgotten. His most famous song, "Watching the Detectives," drives home each time it is heard and was the catalyst that finally brought much of the audience to its feet.

Unlike most of today's songwriter's, Elvis writes lyrics that are poetic, not prosaic. To Costello one carefully turned phrase is much more effective than an entire chorus of preaching. A verse of "Green Shirt" comes to mind:

So you tease,
And you flirt,
And you shine all the buttons on your green shirt.
You can please yourself
But somebody's going to get it.

"Green Shirt," like all of the cuts on Armed Forces, sets up the metaphor with the military to explain and probe forces that enter lives and twist them. "Green Shirt" is not only talking about military clothing, it's talking about self-centeredness.

Costello's performance of that song was stunning, with green light shining from behind and blood-red ones hitting him on the face.

Elvis and the Attractions were nearly as tight in concert as they are in the studio. His vocals were expressive to the point that they carried the songs beyond their original impact. The Attractions provided strong music with Bruce Thomas on the bass, Pete Thomas on the drums, and keyboardist, Steve Naive pumping up the whirling and bouncing organ work that makes him one of the most stylized organists around.

After the rousing "Watching the Detectives," Elvis and the band demanded the audience to its feet with "Radio Radio."' Then they left.

They came back for their first encore, played for fifteen minutes to a dancing audience and left the stage again. Then Elvis did something he is famous for not doing — he came back for a second encore to appease the screaming crowd, singing "Mystery Dance," an incredible cut from his first album.

There was an immediacy to Elvis Costello and the Attractions in concert. They ran onto the stage played their music and left. After the show, Elvis was caught on the street walking to his bus. He was friendly but fast. One could almost feel the anxiety building inside him as he readies once again to enter no man's land.


The Echo, March 23, 1979

David Gomien reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Monday, March 12, 1979, War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, TN.


1979-03-23 University of Chattanooga Echo page 06.jpg
Page scan.

Photo by Jeff Blevins.
1979-03-23 University of Chattanooga Echo photo 01 jb.jpg


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