Some stories you start from the end.
The Elvis Costello concert at the Playhouse Theatre ended Wednesday with much of the audience standing and dancing to some of the most gripping rock and roll you could ever have the pleasure to hear.
And of course there was an encore. The audience shouted and slow-clapped until Elvis came back. Winnipeg fans had been waiting a long time for their first New Wave show, and they were intending to enjoy it to its fullest.
In North America, Elvis Costello is in the position of having no hits, only albums. And so, in a way, all his songs are hits to those that know them. But there are some clear favourites, such as "Mystery Dance," which opened the show, and "The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes," recognizable right from the opening chords, and of course the iconoclastic "Radio Radio."
But generally, the audience was ready to applaud anything. New songs, old songs, songs as yet unheard, they were all Elvis, and that was what they had come to hear.
Costello himself came across as enigmatic. Short, swept back, black hair. Buddy Holly glasses. He seldom moved to his songs, and when he did it was with legs crazily askew. He seemed cool, even withdrawn at the beginning, but warmed up considerably towards the end.
Problems with the PA meant the distinctive qualities of his voice did not come across as well as on the albums, and the lyrics and even the introductions, were often incomprehensible, but there was still little doubt about his abilities.
At his best he reached beyond mere entertainment to that point at which you get a gut feeling which says "this guy is good."
Costello's three piece backing band, The Attractions, came across with a pleasingly full and rich sound, far more powerful than one would suspect from the albums.
The lighting was also very well done. Its delicious colours and the use of varying motifs showed it had all been very nicely worked out.
As the first of its type, one suspects anything but the worst failure would have been enthusiastically approved. Fortunately, the approval was generally very well earned.
The Battered Wives were not at all bad, either. After the shock of the roar of their first few notes they settled down into a fast paced set of very enjoyable rock. Live, they were far more aggresive than on their album. They also showed they could do very credible cover versions of classic rock songs, doing both The Kinks "You Really Got Me," and a raunchy rendering of Ian Dury's "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll."