Review of concert at Royal Albert Hall on 1999-04-15
- Adam Sweeting


Elvis's army manoeuvres


By Adam Sweeting
Saturday April 17, 1999

Elvis Costello
Albert Hall, London

As he returned for encore after encore, it looked as if Elvis Costello intended to play the entire 22 years of his back catalogue. He has never dealt in half-measures. He's never just angry, he's incandescent with rage. He can't have a conversation, he has to deliver a tirade. If he writes a song, he ends up with a whole album.

Yet the Costello faithful couldn't get too much of a good thing. As Elvis roamed freely from the songs he wrote "before you were born" to recent collaborations with Burt Bacharach, the crowd at the Albert Hall shouted requests, supplied singalong bits and went into peacenik bliss during Peace Love And Understanding. A drunk noisily demanded he perform Tramp The Dirt Down. "Glad you like the song so much," said Elvis. "I'm still not gonna play it, though." Elvis was accompanied by his old Attraction Steve Nieve whose stream of inventions and embellishments allowed Costello to take the songs to places they'd never seen before. Surprises lurked everywhere. Temptation, once a pumping lager-fuelled stomp, had been gutted and rebuilt as a stately ballad. Watching The Detectives had had its stark sonic architecture peeled away to reveal a surrealist sketch underneath. Costello used God's Comic as a platform for a sardonic dream sequence, featuring grotesque parodies of The Verve and Duran Duran.

The duo also proudly displayed the fruits of their songwriting partnership in Passionate Fight. Here, Nieve launched into a full-scale pastiche of the Warsaw Concerto. Elsewhere, his clashing fusions of Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and the great Russ Conway meant that dadaist humour was rarely more than a semiquaver away. Elvis didn't mention the Balkans, but he did sing Oliver's Army and Shipbuilding. He'd saved his finest top notes for God Give Me Strength, which tingled with emotion.

Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999