Elvis leaves the building to a standing ovation
Elvis Costello and The Imposters ****
ELVIS COSTELLO has spent much of his career deconstructing failed relationships and examining why people can so easily go from loving each other to hating and hurting each other, so it comes as no surprise that he makes no direct reference to Valentine’s Day at the Usher Hall.
"I guess the reason we’re not talkin’, there’s so little left to say we haven’t said", he sings in Good Year for the Roses, but having nothing left to say is one accusation you could never level at Costello.
He plays a good deal of his most recent long-player, Delivery Man, but rather than hawking it like a travelling mountebank, he intersperses the album’s best songs with as comprehensive a career retrospective as even the most demanding fan could hope for.
And the best songs from Delivery Man can stand proudly alongside Costello’s classics that still see him filling venues of this size around the world.
Needle Time and the title track will no doubt figure in his live repertoire for many years, the former in particular proving he has lost none of his lyrical bite. But for all his scathing lines, Costello is still an old pro when it comes to entertaining. He strikes poses for the press photographers during instrumental breaks and sings through the pickups of a cheap guitar he picked up in a Mississippi backwater, much to the delight of the crowd.
His backing band are also seasoned veterans - drummer Pete Thomas and manic keyboardist Steve Nieve were in Costello’s first great backing band, The Attractions, and bassist Davey Farragher has served with the likes of John Hiatt and Cracker.
Initially their sound is a little muddied as they blast out old rockers like Uncomplicated, but things soon clear up as Costello moves into newer and less sonically forthright material like Country Darkness that gives the band room to breathe.
(I Don’t Want to Go To) Chelsea is played fast and a little flat, losing some of the sinister swagger of the recorded version, but it is far from just a perfunctory run-through. When I Was Cruel shows Costello at his best lyrically and with his guitar, coaxing forlorn wails from it as gut-wrenching as any of his lyrics.
That song then morphs into Watching the Detectives, and later on when the unmistakable throbbing beat of Pump It Up fills the old hall, Costello exhorts the crowd to come forward and dance. He tampers with delightful old favourite Alison, turning it into Suspicious Minds, before launching into What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding and Oliver’s Army.
But lest any couples enjoy themselves too much on Valentine’s Day, he offers up one of his most bitter and possessive songs, I Want You, laying emotions bare that few other performers would on stage.
After nigh on two-and-a-half hours, Costello closes with The Scarlet Tide from Delivery Man and quickly exits.
Not for him the little death of encores, where a crowd eulogises a performer more fondly with applause when they have departed the stage than when they are on it in the hope of cajoling them back; the house lights come up swiftly as a satisfied full house gives him a standing ovation.
Delivery Man indeed