ELVIS COSTELLO – ” Live at the El Mocambo ” March 6th 1978

Posted: March 7, 2015 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC
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On this day (March 6th) in 1978: Elvis Costello closed out his second North American tour with two nights at the El Mocambo in Toronto, Canada. All the stops were pulled as The Attractions tore through a set of old Costello favorites & new material from the forthcoming album ‘This Year’s Model’. The concert was also broadcast by Toronto’s CHUM-FM. The concert was released only as a Canadian promotional album in the same year, but was heavily bootlegged.

Because it came first, that angry-young-man intensity is often taken as his default setting, but perhaps Costello’s punk-era sound was just another stopover on his odyssey through 20th century popular music. That breadth of interest and influence is apparent in even his earliest material: in its emphatic melodicism, in its clever arrangements, in his osmotic absorption of contemporary styles, even if they were raw (ska, pub rock) rather than refined (jazz, Bacharach). He may have been young, he may have been righteously pissed, but he sounds worldly on those early albums, and especially on “Live at the El Mocambo”.

It was first legally made available in 1993 (as “Live at El Mocambo”), either as one disc of Rykodisc’s ‘2½ Years’ box set, or to purchasers of the first three CDs, in exchange for tokens included in the CD packaging, directly from Rykodisc. The concert was issued as a mainstream release on September 29, 2009 by Hip-O Records, with the same content of the 1978 promotional album.

Recorded in Toronto on Costello’s 1978 tour for “My Aim Is True”, the album was originally released as a promotional item, survived the 1980s as a bootleg, and finally got a commercial release as part of the 1993 box set 2½ Years. It’s now a standalone reissue as the first installment in his new series of live reissues. This version reinstates much of the stage banter that was cut from the ’93 version, including Costello’s boast that he and the Attractions have come to reclaim Canada for the Crown. For an artist with so many disparate releases under his belt, Costello doesn’t have a whole lot of live albums, which makes El Mocambo” particularly revealing, even if it does cover only a limited set of songs.

Costello here is a fierce, funny, and intelligent performer, which is certainly no surprise. Nor is the energy with which he and the band pound out raucous versions of “Welcome to the Working Week” and “Lipstick Vogue”. Headlong on the studio albums, these songs are ferocious live, and it helps that they have a rowdy crowd in front of them, who whoop, holler, and call out requests for “Allison” (which he doesn’t play). One guy yahoos so much he should get a performance credit. It’s an electric atmosphere, and the setting brings out the swaggering pre- and early-rock sounds in these songs, suggesting that, even as a young artist, Costello was already fully engaged with the past. Opener “Mystery Dance” sounds like it was built on the same two-note guitar theme as that other Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock”, and, on the intro to “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea”, each instrument seems to be playing in a different style: Bruce Thomas’ strutting ska bassline throwing punches at Steve Nieve’s New Wave-ish keyboard dodging Costello’s swooping guitar.

These are tricky, slippery songs. “Waiting for the End of the World” changes shape almost constantly, as Nieve’s keyboard trades off leads with Costello then ducks back into the rhythm section. And just when the setlist reaches a fevered peak, they break into “Little Triggers”, giving Costello a surprising amount of room to croon and offsetting the reckless rush of “Lip Service” and “Radio, Radio”. They obliterate the reggae rhythms of “Watching the Detectives” but play up the noir mood before launching into a start-stop bridge. And after Costello taunts the audience (“He doesn’t think I mean it!”), the Attractions and guitarist Martin Belmont hammer away at the central riff of “Pump It Up” violently, growing more frenzied and frantic with each repetition until the whole show falls apart, ending with a full minute of steady clapping and calls for another encore.

Track listing (all songs written by Elvis Costello):
“Mystery Dance” – 2:19
“Waiting for the End of the World” – 3:52
“Welcome to the Working Week” – 1:19
“Less Than Zero” – 4:08
“The Beat” – 3:33
“Lip Service” – 2:26
“(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – 3:56
“Little Triggers” – 2:47
“Radio Radio” – 2:33
“Lipstick Vogue” – 4:46
“Watching the Detectives” – 5:48
“Miracle Man/Band Introduction” – 4:07
“You Belong to Me” – 2:32
“Pump It Up” – 4:42

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