There were probably more flashes in the rock pan during the late '70s than any other time in history. With his surly demeanor and looks that would give a nerd self-confidence, Elvis Costello could well have been one of them.
But for all he lacked in social graces and sex appeal, Costello was bristling with talent and beneath the image lurked a deep sensitivity.
Though never a major radio presence, Costello has endured through the quality of his material. He's still no heartthrob, but he has matured nonetheless and his concert at the Coliseum Saturday night showed that the surface intensity has become deep-rooted passion.
Always quick with a pointed statement, Ol' Red Shoes opened with "Let Them All Talk," from his latest Punch The Clock LP. Backed by the Attractions, his trio of sidemen for six years, and the newly-added TKO Horns, Costello packed as much energy into two verses as some singers put into two sets. "Possession" followed with as much brass drive as one usually expects from Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.
Providing wind-driven support were Big Jim Paterson, trombone; Jeff Blythe, alto sax; Paul Speare, tenor sax (all formerly with Dexy's Midnight Runners) and Dave Plews, trumpet. Costello had already made tunes like "Watching The Detectives" and "Man Out Of Time" near-classics on his own. With the TKO's behind them, the songs took on totally new dimensions.
Dispatching the brass and doffing his guitar, E.C. offered "Care About It," showing his most soulful side on the waltz-time ballad. The singer and his stalwart trio capped the segment with a rousing "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?" that brought a show-slowing ovation from the crowd of 2,400. With or without the TKO foursome, drummer Pete Thomas never let up and bassist Bruce (no relation) Thomas kept perfect pace. Steve Nieve employed four separate keyboards and added enough color to make Costello's guitar work almost an afterthought.
The horns were back for "The World and His Wife" and though the excitement kept building until the set's end, Costello saved several of his best for the very last. Encore one brought the newest single, "Every Day I Write The Book" and a tenderly rendered "Alison," the Costello-penned ballad that was successfully covered by Linda Ronstadt. The second return trip found the TKO's and Attractions in competition for prominence as "Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and "Pump It Up" ended the show as powerfully as it began.
Having overcome his initial gawkiness, Costello has developed into a seasoned pro and this program was as smooth as the best of them. Costello has always taken himself seriously. Those who haven't should catch up.
Filling the intro slot were fellow Britons Aztec Camera, a new quartet with a most unusual approach to modern pop. Combining contemporary rhythms with chord progressions and vocal melodies right out of the '30s and '40s, Aztec Camera proved that something different does appear in the rock world periodically, even if it was perhaps a bit too eclectic for this crowd.