Friday, November 09, 2007

Miracle Man

I still remember when I first purchased and listened to My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello's debut album, back in 1977. It was the beginning of the New Wave/Punk scene, and after getting past the name that seeemed like it had to be a joke when I first heard it, I discovered a musical talent that I have been a fervent fan of for thirty years now. I don't even know how many times I've seen Elvis in concert over the years -- probably somewhere between 20 and 30, maybe more -- but I try never to miss him when he's in town.

My Aim Is True absolutely knocked me out the first time I heard it, and my music-appreciating life changed then forever. I bought that and Iggy Pop's Kill City (on green vinyl!) at the same time, and played both of them to death over the course of the next... well, hell, I still haven't stopped playing MAIT. And neither has Elvis, apparently. Songs such as Alison and Watching The Detectives have been staples of his live shows since he began touring shortly after the album was released; but in all that time, he had never performed them live with Clover, the Marin County-based band that preceded the Attractions and with whom he recorded that seminal album.

Until last night, that is.

It seems that a local musician, keyboardist Austin de Lone of Mill Valley, is in need of a large infusion of cash to help set up a foundation to research treatment and/or a cure for Prader-Willi syndrome, a disability that affects his young son Richard. Austin and Elvis have been friends for many years, and Elvis agreed to do a benefit to help raise money for the cause. The idea came about to reunite Elvis with the long-defunct Clover (guitarist John McFee, who has played for the past 20 years with the Doobie Brothers; keyboardist Sean Hopper, who, along with former Clover harmonica player Huey Lewis, formed Huey Lewis and the News; and bass player John Ciambotti, who had been out of the music business for many years and working as a chiropractor). They would play the entire album My Aim Is True, start to finish, in two shows that somehow flew rather lowly under the radar because of the small venue and the high price of tickets.

So it happened that last night I found myself at the Great American Music Hall (capacity: 600 people; two blocks from my home; one of the sweetest venues you'll ever find, anywhere), just about this ... far from the stage, getting to hear one of my all-time favorite albums being played live, in its entirety, in the order the songs came out on the record. Jesus pancake-flippin' Christ, that was an amazing show.

My pal Marty and I wisely opted for the late show, and were very glad we did. (Here's a hint, kids: If there is an early show and a late show, always, always, always go to the late show. Early shows are for squares.) To open the show, Austin de Lone and well-regarded guitarist Bill Kirchen (Hammer Of The Honky-Tonk Gods, Hot Rod Lincoln) played a lively little set; then Elvis took the stage, the crowd shut up and magic happened.

From the hammer-down opening of Welcome To The Working Week through a beautiful Alison, a romping Blame It On Cain, a blistering I'm Not Angry to the encore of Watching The Detectives, Elvis and Clover sounded as if they had been playing together all those 30 years. It was sublime. After he finished Sneaky Feelings, he joked, "And now we flip the record," then began what bass player John Ciambotti had always referred to as "that song that sounds like The Byrds," (The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes. Between songs he told many stories about the early days of his career, how he happened to hook up with Clover to record that first album and lots more. He was charming, effusive and loquacious. "The record was only 35 minutes long," he quipped at one point; "that's why I'm talking so much in between songs." Of his life situation in those early days he said that he had been working in the computer department of a lipstick-making factory. "I thought I would combine make-up and rock and roll. It turned out I was a few years too late for that phenomenon." Later he mentioned that not long after the first album's relelase he and the Attractions had been interviewed by "some reporter from Nightline, looking to cover the 'punk scene'(!!)... his name was 'Geraldo' [Rivera], but we called him 'Horrendo'."

The show could have ended then, and I would have gone home happy. But after Watching The Detectives, Elvis took the stage alone and played a half-dozen songs on acoustic guitar, all of them written circa 1975, and all of them little undiscovered gems. Then Clover, joined by Austin de Lone and Bill Kirchen, came back on stage and they ran through a few more early numbers, including Living In Paradise, Stranger In The House and Radio Sweetheart (with John McFee playing pedal steel on the latter two). Another stage exit, and another encore had Elvis leading the audience in a chorus of Happy Birthday to a woman who had just flown in that night, and then telling us that Bonnie Raitt was there, and that he had hoped to get her on stage with him, but that she had declined. He then sang Love Has No Pride, accompanied only by Austin de Lone on keyboard, dedicated to her and pointing to where she was apparently seated in the balcony. Finally, everybody came back on to close the show with a thundering version of (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding, featuring a raucous three-way guitar battle between Elvis, John McFee and Bill Kirchen.

After the last note sounded and the band was off the stage for good, audience members, most of them grinning from ear to ear, high-fived each other, hugged each other and just generally milled about in a state of bliss, not wanting to leave. I just wish you could have been there with me (especially you, nash). It was truly a performance for the ages, one I will certainly remember for the rest of my life, easily one of the top two or three I've seen him give. I'm still blissed out.
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