Get Emotional

Few people gave Elvis Costello a chance when he set out on the 1977 Live Stiffs tour, and even fewer could blame them. Up against a bespectacled Herbert and his barely-blooded trio, after all, were ranged the twin behemoths of Ian Dury and Rockpile, artists that had positively decades of experience behind them. Costello, on the other hand, had barely had his name for nine months.

Of course, everyone knows what happened next, as Costello not only pushed his co-headliners aside, he proceeded to shove most of the contemporary music scene behind him, banging out a succession of albums, one-two-three, that remain among the most startling statements of the entire end-of-Seventies nightclub. And this show, taped around midway through the Stiffs outing (Leicester, October 22), shows how he did it.

Quite frankly, this might be the crucial document of the Attractions at their peak, with Elvis firmly transitioning between the airy Dylanisms of My Aim Is True, and the darker idiosyncrasies of This Year’s Model, and the band battling behind him with an aggression that renders even the darkest-hearted oldies all but unrecognizable.

But it’s a playful outing too, as Costello opens the show with Richard Hell’s "Love Comes In Spurts"; acknowledges Dury’s own influence on his writing with a seething cover of the Kilburns’ "Roadette Song," then cheekily teases fellow Stiff star Wreckless Eric, with a turbulent cover of "The Whole Wide World" - the second time the audience had heard the song that evening (Eric was also on the tour), although it’s unlikely anyone complained.

The Damned’s "Neat Neat Neat," too, finds its way into the show, stripped back, swampy and stark. But it’s the songs that would make up Costello’s next album - "Chelsea," "The Beat," "Little Triggers" and, looking even further ahead, "Dr Luther’s Assistant," that truly reveal where Costello was at - and it was a darker, more dangerous place than he’s ever been before. Whatever you thought of Elvis Costello in 1977, Get Emotional will make you re-evaluate it all. - Dave Thompson

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September 29, 2006