Punk rock is dead.
Oh, the corpse is still twitching. But even the media publicists are beginning to lose interest, and indifference is the burial-ground of any fad.
Yet its heirs live on, and its legacy was thriving Saturday at the Royal Oak Theatre in Nick Lowe, Mink DeVille and Elvis Costello.
They were never true pins-and-needles punk because they refused to disconnect their brains from their music. But the punk publicity force-fed the public on basic, bang-it-out rock. Such outfits as the Sex Pistols were shock troops, and now that they're gone they can be honored far more than when they were so noxiously present (saints and pork, it has been said, are more revered after death than before).
They shared with Saturday night's bands an allegiance to rock's Triple-A: aggression, anger, angst.
Nick Lowe could have been fronting a rock band 15 years ago, especially with Dave Edmunds along to play guitar as taught the English by Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. Rudimentary but accomplished, their short set exhalted the pure abandon of straightforward rock 'n' roll. (Album reference, by the way, is Pure Pop for Now People, on Columbia.)
Scrawny and sneering, Willy DeVille looked like an extra in Grease without the cuteness, and sang like a cross between the Rolling Stones and Jay and the Americans — appropriate, since he was the U.S. contribution to the bill.
His band can crash and bang, but its sax player helped put the lonesome city sounds into the stories that lurk in Willy's songs.
Rushed by the crowded bill — the bands did two shows — Mink DeVille charged through much of their one album, Cabretta (Capitol-EMI), at their most powerful in the driving John Lee Hooker-style rhythms of "Cadillac Walk" and most pseudo-tender in "Mixed Up Shook Up Girl." If Bruce Springsteen won't tell us any more street stories, maybe Willie is ready.
Elvis Costello is being assiduously promoted as the next visionary, which could cloud his vision. But he's a smart boy (brainy enough lo hold down a job in computers, and to get out of it) who's writing songs as abrasive, both emotionally and intellectually, as the Stones at the end of the 1960s.
Costello is learning how the Stones used to challenge an audience, a controlled growl on stage.
But he's not golden just yet; the songs on his second album, This Year's Model (on Columbia) drone monotonously. On stage he put more life into such bangers as "Pump It Up," and older goodies such as "Red Shoes," always promising nasty surprises, held up well.
Anyhow, he looks like Buddy Holly after two decades of rock and roll trauma. Holly might have lost his sweetness too.
None of these bands has proved its staying power yet. That requires more than a stance. Time to find variety beyond fads, boys.