University of Sydney Honi Soit, January 1979

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University of Sydney Honi Soit
  • 1979 January

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A bout Costello

Elvis Costello & The Attractions / Regent Theatre

Nick Horn

Well, folks, this was the night of the famous Elvis Costello Riot Of '78. You know, when Elvis and his band ran off again into the sunset, at which point the audience rioted. Elvis was shat off, so we are told, by the lack of audience enthusiasm, and by the crummy sound mix. Well, we were shat off too, Elvis old pal. You call standing up and screaming for more for ten minutes en masse 'lack of audience enthusiasm'? And why make an already unsatisfactory concert (due to poor sound quality) more unsatisfactory by playing for even less than the bare minimum of one hour specified in the contract? Elvis, mate, you've got a lot to answer for in the opinions of all of those people who paid $9.50 to see you in the flesh that Sunday night. This was clear from the twenty violent, angry minutes after we all realised that 58 minutes were all the minutes we were going to hear. Memories of the riot certainly swamp my memories of the concert itself. A disquieting experience.

The bad news started as early as the concert started late (about a quarter of an hour). Jo Jo Camilleri gave an excellent impression of a rock 'n' roll singer off his face during the first song that Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons tried to play. This song had its climax in the incident of the microphone-stand-thrown-into-the-audience. A real stunner. The band did, it must be said, get progressively better during their set. I liked "So Young" before the concert, and went away still liking it. There was some nice saxophone work towards the end, as well. But really, they were all over the place; not boring, but disappointing.

The trouble was, that it was really good having Elvis up there in front singing us his wonderful obsessed songs in that delightfully angry way of his. And the Attractions are a great band (they consist of Steve Naive, keyboards; Bruce Thomas, bass; Pete Thomas, drums). The playing of the Thomases (not brothers) (or even cousins) was always energetic and interesting, as was Steve Naive's playing (which was somewhat swallowed in the mix). There remains the question of Elvis' guitar work, which was a bit fractured at the best of times.

Overall, a solid, punchy wall of sound with Elvis' voice smashing through. Everything was very fast (some things too fast — "Red Shoes" for instance), but this was just the style of the concert — he avoided (that night, anyway) any of his slower songs ("Alison"; "Little Triggers"). He did "Alison" second concert.

Thank goodness he didn't avoid "Watching the Detectives"; this was just great, the best song of the evening, satisfyingly stretched out in the middle.

Steve Naive once said in an interview that he liked Elvis' music because of the "spooky bits." I didn't know exactly what he meant before, but it is clear from watching them live that Elvis Costello and the Attractions really are a "spooky" sort of a band. There seemed at times to be weird spaces in the sound, ghostly moments.

Especially during "Watching the Detectives," when a green light at Elvis' feet shining up into his face made him into a kind of zombie — "he can't be wounded 'cause he's got no heart." That chasm between the T.V. viewer and the T.V. character ("she's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake"; "it only takes my little finger to blow you away") was crested on stage, especially after the band had vanished.

They ran on, suddenly they were there, this actually was Elvis Costello twenty yards away up on stage. Then the songs came on breathlessly, one after the other, no fooling around, fast and hard and gutsy, a la This Years Model (from which record most of the material came).

Then just as suddenly, he was gone, the videotape had finished, someone pulled a switch or pressed a button. Sort of like we had just been watching him on Countdown.

The encore which might have been (which was at the other concerts) would have made him seem somehow more human ("sometimes I almost feel just like a human being").

But that was that; it was like screaming and throwing chairs and cushions and cans of beer at a television screen. Elvis, the two-dimensional product of some scriptwriter's imagination. All he had to do was to come back and play two more songs, and no riot would have happened. But he didn't, and lo! there was a riot. $9.50 doesn't really give you very much control over a rock 'n' roll band, does it?

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Honi Soit, January 1979


Nick Horn reviews Elvis Costello & The Attractions and opening act Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, Sunday, December 3, 1978, Regent Theatre, Sydney, Australia.


Mark Gentile reviews Armed Forces.

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Armed Forces

Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Mark Gentile

Armed Forces possesses as many surprises as it does expected events. From the first album My Aim is True, when the angry man of new wave chic burst onto the international market with a burning desire for revenge on all those who had wronged him, through This Year's Model to this album he has changed in outlook. He has become more congenial and for this album even manages a smile or two for the photos as well as the usual repertoire of stern and questioning looks. It is obvious that the vicious arrogance of the first album cover has given way to a more tolerant persona.

The music on Armed Forces expresses this new temperament. (Although the live Costello seems to be just as violent, aggressive, mean and objectionable as ever, as seen in his recent Australian tour which resulted in violence from many areas; band, management and media, as well as from the audience.)

Gone is much of the aggressiveness and many of the rough edges of the rhythm and blues which dominated the first album. My Aim is True was a straight-forward exploration in the style that Costello has adopted and personalised. His second album was a more complex work with just as much energy as the first album and a new lyrical slant.

Now this album; a very complex sound by comparison to previous work, but definitely not lacking in enthusiasm and energy, which is in evidence in abundance. But again a new lyrical slant.

Lyrically, each new Costello album covers a different area. On My Aim is True it was a very personal expression of how the world had affected him. On This Year's Model there was much exploration of how other people react to trends, and Armed Forces deals with the establishment from the Costello viewpoint.

The music on this album is beautifully produced by Nick Lowe, a well-known musical phenomena in his own right who has slotted empathically into Elvis' music through all three albums.

The band is hot, and play beautifully, producing a sound which is complex, layered and textured; which is a step forward and a change of direction for Costello. As for the songs? Well, Costello has proven that he can write and write well.

This album is the next step in a progression, the progression of a valid singer/songwriter. Enough said.



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