Elvis Costello is great. An ex-computer science programmer, he's your average myopic wimpoid who can't afford good clothes or proper musical equipment. So what's he do? Get three other guys that are just as funny looking as he is and devise a music which combines tiny guitar, farfisa organ, bass and drums with very witty lyrics about rejection and twentieth century courting games. And it works.
Anyway, it was no surprise that the audience that showed up to the two O'Keefe shows that Costello did on Friday was a mixed one. You had, of course, the bimbos that go to every rock concert in the city. They're the ones smoking funny vegetation and rushing the stage. Then there are the record company types. They get great seats and don't stand up for the encore. But at Costello there was a strange and seldom seen brand of rock fan mixing with the rubes — the intellectual elite. The people in the corduroy jackets and dress shirts. The people who actually have something to say to each other before the show. Typically Springsteen fans, this bunch were the only ones who looked like they belonged at the O'Keefe. And you can bet your Spenser text that they, while the others were falling down to the rhythms of the music and trying to be seen by their friends, actually appreciated what Costello was doing.
Costello's stage show, understand, is not simply a matter of four wimps playing incredibly tight, full rock and roll under the guiding eye of its leader. Costello presents a visual image which is at once reminiscent of Buddy Holly and Elvis. Yet when he sings you get a Springsteen without hope, a cynical participant observer in the modern courtship ritual. You pity the guy for being such a loser but at the same time his pose is endearing. You want to take him home and get him drunk. In the back of all this is the fact that these four wimps have made it. Costello is a rock star and is toying with the role in a half-serious fashion. (here comes another comparison) Brian Ferry. It all sounds as confusing as hell, but that segment of his audience not pissed to the gills on Friday caught it. And this surprising subtlety of presence, combined with the great music, including several new songs and rearrangements old faves, made for a devastating concert.
As for the opening act, the Battered Wives, excuuuuuuse me, the Wives, they played an obnoxiously long set of their puerile ditties that was accompanied by such tacky visual gimmicks as their being led onto stage by scantily clad dominant-master females. They were dull — real dull. But special mention must be made to the band's leader, Toby Swan: a more inept, pitiful, drooling cretin I have never seen on stage. And I've seen them all.