Welcome to Stiffland. See the freaks and crazies. See the straights and goonies. See the A1 and throwaway. Live onstage.
Whose gonna win? Wreckless Eric with his filthy face? Ian Dury with his manic eyes and red neckerchief? Nick Lowe with his shaggy hair and twin necked bass / lead guitar? Or Elvis the tough boy in his Winfield leather jacket and tight shiny black jeans?
W. Eric came on first for a 20-minute set of rough fun and rock 'n' roll, with blaring sax and scaring vocals. At the end he goes mad, something about time "TICKTOCKTICKTOCKTICKTOCK." Hahaha. The man is witty and intense too. Not just a warm-up.
Then — and I'll give it away now — the winner. Ian Dury, with his cocked grin and cheery grunt, helped by his amazingly brilliant band, certainly the best of the night. The crowd fell like they did for no-one else, not even Elvis.
It was Dury's first stage appearance for a couple of years. It was pure triumph and he knew it. Banter with the audience — "The guitar solos are too long"; ID — "Whassis, a debating society for a rock 'n' roll road show?" Dury used to go to school up the hill from the gig. "And that's why I'm warped."
He devoted the set to material from the New Boots And Panties album minus "My Old Man" and "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll." It was inspired — personality charisma and instrumental flow exactly combined to make Dury's bizarre approach so instant it was palatable.
If Dury was the surprise of the set Nick Lowe was the shock. Out of all the acts I looked forward to him most, a man responsible for countless pop classics one way or another. He bombed actually.
The sound suddenly became muggy and painful and the crowd cooled. Lowe did "Shake And Pop," "Music For Money," "So It Goes" and "Heart Of The City," only the last of which really made any impact. He inexplicably ignored superb numbers like "Marie Provost," "Endless Sleep" and "What Did I Do Last Night."
Then the bill-topper, Elvis, looking dead silly, a computer operator in mufti, in his all-black get-up and bookworm specs. And the first half of his set was thrown away by doing not particularly instant new numbers.
Costello's calculated negativism — I don't want this, I don't like that — is getting a bit tiresome, especially when he takes it to the extent of refusing to do any numbers off the album — "If you've got it you can go home and listen to it. If you haven't you can go out and buy it."
But he makes up for it some by producing numbers that are just so immediate they're irresistible — "Detectives" being the best, then "Victims," "Lipstick Vogue" and "Night Writer."
It's still inescapable that a lot of his set fell flat, mainly because of his selfishness in doing what he wants rather than what his audience wants.
Still, he threw in "Less Than Zero" — big of him, eh? — to round off the set. It was enjoyable but incomplete. Which I suppose could be said of the whole evening.
But if there was any genius — and there was, in at least three heads — Dury, on this showing, was the oddest and most impressive.