About a couple of blocks away from the Patricia Corbett Auditorium where Mozart's opera, "The Magic Flute," sold out the house for all performances, stands Wilson Auditorium — there, last Wednesday night, Mink de Ville, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello performed their brand of what some call Punk Rock and what others call New Wave. Costello was definitely the headliner. Most in the crowd were there to see him perform.
Perform? Committed an act might be more accurate. What kind of act is hard to define but Elvis (whose resemblance to the other Elvis is based on the fact that they both use a guitar) stuck a nerve in the audience — a nerve located neither in the head or the heart, but somewhere in the back seat of a parked car half an hour after the closing song of the junior prom.
By no means was it music for the mindless, yet there was a rawness to Costello's music that had nothing to do with beauty — it was the rawness of pain and frustration.
Costello's garb and physical appearance provides the key to where Costello is coming from: urban, young working America. He doesn't wear flash, glitter, suede or designer jumpsuits. Glamour tailoring is replaced with downright prudish missionary clothing. If Costello buttoned his shirt collar and pulled up the knot in his necktie, he'd rate backstage privileges at any religious revival. His clothes aren't sexy and neither is he.
This boy is not from suburbia or the city, in fact, he's not from this year — he's from some fantasized postwar (WWII) neighborhood in Jersey City. He's not pretty and he sounds less than lyrical — so why did the people in Wilson Auditorium jump in their seats? Why did they watch Costello with rapt attention? Is Costello healthy for growing children? Probably not, but then, what is these days?
What is important about Costello is that he has a following. Most of the audience in Wilson Auditorium were young and as one audience member commented: "collegiate-looking" — Levis, track shoes, flannel shirts and healthy tans.
The woman who described the crowd as "collegiate" seemed disappointed but she didn't have much in common with most of the audience. She wore two rings through her left nostril, a sleazy black shirt, a mini-skirt and stiletto heels. Yes, she also sported a beehive hairdo. There were some pointed shoes, a few safety pins and dark glasses in the audience, but card-carrying punks were obviously in the minority. Almost everyone looked like the girl or the guy down the hall out for a good time.
Perhaps Costello and the New Wave signals the end of an old era and the beginning of a new era. Perhaps they're only refrying 50's bebop and the early 60's "Mersey Sound" — remember England's "skinheads?" Dismiss Costello and the New Wave if you will, but take note: a lot of people are listening to New Wave and they're listening hard.