Elvis Costello - vocals, guitar; Steve Nieve - organ; Bruce Thomas - bass; Pete Thomas - drums
David Lee Roth once quipped that most rock critics like Elvis Costello because most rock critics look like Elvis Costello. Here's a show submitted for Diamond Dave's approval, recorded at the Winterland Ballroom, June 7, 1978. No gymnastics, no sequined pants - just awesome rock 'n' roll.
Valedictorian of punk's inaugural class of '77, the artist formerly known as Declan McManus had maintained his reputation for flawless songcraft with the 1978 release This Year's Model - his first with supporting band the Attractions. The combination of Costello's eloquent pop and the aggressive minimalism practiced by his new band proved potent and the kids went bloody mad for it.
Former Stiff Records label mate and producer to Costello's debut record My Aim is True, Nick Lowe kicked off the festivities at Winterland on the last night of a stateside jaunt for Elvis and the boys. Lowe no doubt put up an inspired set, but it was Costello the audience paid to see and it was he that made sure everyone got their $6.50's worth with a relentless barrage of hits from his first two records in addition to others that would surface on Armed Forces the following year.
This bare-bones combo was already showing the versatility that would become the hallmark of later albums. Shifting from the spy-movie noir of "Goon Squad" to The Troggs-like anthem of "Less Then Zero," each instrument is attacked with such ferocity it sounds as if all those keys and drums and strings can barely keep together. Indeed, whether due to technical difficulties or a sudden grip of mercy from its bespectacled tormentor, the guitar cuts out during a no-less-menacing version of "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea." It would all be terrifying if it weren't so damn catchy - and therein lies Costello's genius. His urban blight, crimes of passion and international conspiracies all have a tendency to make you wanna dance.
Though he would go on to receive further critical acclaim for his fluency in many popular genres, this is the essence of Elvis Costello - on a bare stage with a handful of guys playing like their lives depended on it.