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Flashback: Elvis Costello at Greek Theatre, Berkeley (30 Aug 1996)

posted Feb 1, 2015, 12:15 AM by Vu Nguyen

Greek Theatre, Berkeley (30 Aug 1996) 

  1. Man Out Of Time
  2. Honey, Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?
  3. Clown Strike
  4. Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?
  5. Little Atoms
  6. Beyond Belief
  7. You Belong To Me
  8. Party Girl
  9. Love Field
  10. Veronica
  11. My Funny Valentine
  12. It's Time
  13. All This Useless Beauty
  14. Distorted Angel / (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea
  15. Pump It Up
  16. Just About Glad
  17. Riot Act
  18. Accidents Will Happen
  19. The Other End Of The Telescope
  20. 13 Steps Lead Down
  21. Watching The Detectives
  22. Alison
  23. Rocking Horse Road
  24. I Want To Vanish
  25. Shallow Grave
  26. I Want You
  27. Daddy Can I Turn This?
courtesy of

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Elvis Costello
I've seen Elvis Costello at the Berkeley Theater before. I was there to cover Sleeper, the opening band. We had pretty awful seats, I had brought some friends along. They wanted to leave, but not until he played "Veronica" ...
No one loves Sleeper as much as I do. I own all of Sleeper's singles and albums. Their second album was a slightly superior to their debut Smart album, even though all the singles leading up to the debut album was wonderful. ...

You know that I'm a massive Sleeper fan. The second time I saw Sleeper, they had signed on to open up for Elvis Costello on an eight US tour. According to my ticket stub, with taxes and fees, it was slightly over $30 to see about a 30-minute set from my then-favorite British band.

Sleeper at Mod Lang flyer (1996)
I had a really fun time in Berkeley that August 30th, 1996. I distinctively remember heading over to my favorite Britpop shop, Mod Lang, early to meet and get autographs for my Sleeper singles and vinyls. I was possibly the first person in line, now that I think about it.

From my poor memory, there were only about ten or so Sleeper fans and some fans got back in line to get more items signed. Louise, Jon, Andy, and Diid, they were more than happy to signed everything though (in fact, if I had known, I would have brought my entire discography for them to sign). The look on their faces, it felt like they were surprised anyone showed up at all. I know the band was big in the UK (appearing on various magazines and weeklies), but in America, it was a struggle for them to crack the US market.

Anyway, according to various flyers, the meet & greet was at 3:30pm, and their stage appearance was 9pm.

I might have also mentioned that I've regretted the fact that we left Costello's set mid-way. I was with friends, and they wanted to leave... so I blame them!

What's interesting to note is that by 1995-1996, Costello was a huge Britpop fan. He had various artists like Lush and Sleeper covering his songs (and in fact, Costello returned the favor to Sleeper by covering their song "What Do I Do Now?")

While obviously many Britpop bands failed to transition to the modern age, Costello proved that he's more than just a fad. He's still actively recording music and playing live shows... with an upcoming US tour. Pump it up, when you don't even need it!

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Here is a review of the Sleeper set, originally published by Consumeable. The website is no longer online, so this is for archival purpose. It is written by one of my friends, and having re-read it, I had forgotten that Louise Wener was barefoot on stage! We had pretty bad seats, that's all I can remember.

Sleeper, Greek Theatre, U.C.Berkeley - Robin Lapid
originally published on Consumeable

It's a shame that the British press continues to slag off Sleeper for music that's often described as rehashed and banal. The truth is, the British quartet's female-fronted pop group does not make innovative or even original music - but with acts like Bush and Hootie and the Blowfish on the American airwaves, this isn't necessarily the most heinous crime). However, Sleeper does put out tuneful songs with enough good hooks and catchy refrains to warrant them consideration as a fun listen and a potentially enlivening night out. And in an era where male-dominated groups still domineer the music charts, singer-guitarist Louise Wener's sexually potent and politically incisive lyrics add zest to the scene. As the opening act for Elvis Costello and the Attractions' current U.S. tour, however, some of the band's more appealing live qualities may have gotten lost in obscurity. The largely thirtysomething crowd filtering in throughout the set seemed more in need of a fix to get off their high of seeing Sting a couple of weeks ago than to test drive the latest indie music hopefuls.

Sleeper do not necessarily make easy-listening music. Sure, there are some by-the-book pop riffs and the occasional backing horns which lend a respectable gravitas to their repertoire. But underneath the bouncy, grooving sounds lurk spiky rhythms and a sardonic sense of musical self-control. During a half-hour set to an anxious crowd of Elvis followers, Sleeper delivered songs from their debut release Smart as well as their recent domestic release The It Girl. Backed by the laudable musicianship of lead guitarist Jon Stewart, bassist Diid Osman, and drummer Andy MaClure, Wener pens songs which find their own niche within the female-fronted indie scene. Edgier than Velocity Girl yet more refined than Elastica's bare-bones pop, raspy-voiced Wener sings the lives and loves of modern life a la Blur lyricist Damon Albarn. But this time it's from the perspective of a clever woman who makes no bones about the state of female sexuality rather than from a clever man who obsesses over the fears of a numbing patriarchy gone awry.

Barefoot and clad in figure-hugging jeans and t-shirt, Wener bounced around a bit and delivered the band's friendlier pop numbers but managed to sprinkle in the odd tune that bespoke their more sinister side, not just in the lyrics but in the music itself. The closing song, "Alice In Vain," demonstrates this perfectly. It's a hard-driving tune which languishes in the rhythmic stupor of the displaced heroine ("Oh ah, such a pity/ She's not even pretty").

This is the type of music best suited for the typical "indie" scene, with an intimate mass huddled together, jumping about within the dim confines of a dingy club. As an opening band at an outdoor ampitheatre filled with couples and families huddled under blankets and packed dinners, it's an entirely different mood. Elvis Costello fans clapped graciously while waiting for a musician who certainly excels in his own right. Though satisfying, Sleeper's set was a deceptive one, providing pleasant pop but with some of its fangs removed.

Elvis Costello at Greek Theatre, Berkeley (30 Aug 1996) ticket stub

Update (02/01/2015)

posted Feb 1, 2015, 12:04 AM by Vu Nguyen

TAKE 1 (Promo) (1997)

SWALLOW EP (CD) (Feb 1994)

DELICIOUS (CD) (May 1994)

VEGAS (CD) (Mar 1995)

VEGAS (12") (Mar 1995)

VEGAS (7") (Mar 1995)

B-SIDES (Promo) (1995)

THE IT GIRL (UK) (06 May 1996)

THE IT GIRL (10") (1996)

THE IT GIRL (US) (1996)

THE IT GIRL (Japan) (1996)

SLEEPER PROMOTIONAL POSTCARD BVCP-6080 (1)  (photo by Loren Haynes) (1996)

SLEEPER PROMOTIONAL POSTCARD BVCP-6080 (2) (photo by Loren Haynes) (1996)

SLEEPER PROMOTIONAL POSTCARD BVCP-6080 (3) (photo by Loren Haynes) (1996)

Update (01/31/2015)

posted Jan 31, 2015, 3:13 PM by Vu Nguyen

Greek Theatre, Berkeley (30 Aug 1996)