While a wet, wintry night combined with the intimidating quality of the Garden's mammoth cavity would hardly seem to describe the ideal backdrop to an enjoyable evening of new wave/pop, the effect of such details was certainly not apparent when Britain' Elvis Costello (and the Attractions) and Squeeze (on the last leg of their current North American tour) descended upon a Metro Toronto audience on Feb. 9.
Both had come to display their goods to a largely uninitiated body of fans, and this they did masterfully, delivering a punchy blend of musical proficiency and skillful performance.
Squeeze took to centre stage first, and it was evident from the outset that they were not the typical "warm-up" band that plays an obligatory set before the headliner but rather a thoroughly professional unit capable of making a stance in their own right. The five-member band clipped its way through a nifty collection of tunes predominately (from their highly successful (and most recent) LP Argy Bargy, while rounding out their program with numbers from 79's Cool for Cats and some new compositions (from their new album-due for release in March). All of these were handled with record perfect precision and featured strong vocals and crafty keyboard work.
Particularly notable were a powerful trio of songs about midway through the performance, all from Argy Bargy (Farina Beat," "Another Nail in my Heart," "Pulling Mussels from a Shell"), introduced by Squeeze by calling on the audience to stand up and let loose. The audience was very receptive to this offer, thus setting the tempo for the remainder of the affair. with the band and audience rollicking together to a spirited conclusion.
The band returned moments later to a well-deserved encore and treated the crowd of roughly 10,000 to one final tune, "Goodbye Girl" before yielding the stage to Elvis Costello.
There is an expression that "one's reputation precedes you" and in the case of Elvis Costello this certainly has been true, but in a negative sense. Since Elvis first appeared as a new wave pioneer in 1977, he has continually been described as a rather nasty fellow, largely due to a single incident which occurred in '79 involving certain derogatory comments made about Ray Charles (which earned Elvis a broken arm) but in a general way related to his displayed indifference towards unappreciative crowds (especially true of L.A. where in '79 he cut a concert short after only 40 minutes for this very reason).
Fortunately, this tour has been witness to a reformed Costello who proved his new integrity by opening his '81 tour in L.A. by greeting the fans with "It's great to be back in Los Angeles" (and played for over two hours).
It was an Elvis Costello of similar temperament who strode on stage in Toronto and proceeded through a beautifully paced 90 minute show, teasing the crowd relentlessly by alternating between fast and slow pieces, sensing the right moment to play cards from his varied deck, while at all times remaining in complete control.
Early on he perched himself at the stage's edge, gesturing to those in the far reaches of the darkened arena in a desperate plea to give birth to a warmth of communication from among the virtual sea of faces. Later, he invited a mass to gather at the same edge, praising them for their exuberance and demanding to know what they wanted to hear so he could play if for them.
To polish the picture the band utilized a patterned but not overly indulgent light show, an effect not used simply for its shock appeal but as a poised dramatic technique. And to top everything the performance peaked at the absolute perfect moment (almost like a well-contrived novel) with Squeeze's guitarist joining Elvis on stage for a singing, guitar-playing duet during the first encore; and the second even surpassing the first with Costello and the Attractions pulling all stops with a dynamic version of "Watching the Detectives."
All in all, Squeeze and Elvis Costello turned in a first rate effort, with Squeeze shining in the musical end of things and Costello proving himself the model performer; a combination which will undoubtedly ensure that any future visits by the pair will be received with open arms by Torontonians.