And yet I'm not sure if I'll ever see a better live show than the one I saw Elvis Costello play in Dublin's National Concert Hall in April, 1999. Backed only by Steve Nieve on piano and, for a handful of numbers, by himself on acoustic guitar, Elvis played thirty songs in two hours, scattering a typically wide-ranging set with the guts of Painted From Memory, a collection of sassy piano-based ballads he'd recently recorded in collaboration with Burt Bacharach.
Drawing from an exceptional and far-reaching body of work that transcends the years like it does the genres, The Beloved Entertainer made every single blow count and, from the top — a searing "Why Can't A Man Stand Alone" from All This Useless Beauty his intentions were clear and his aim true. At his best, Elvis is a master craftsman and an often untouchable live performer and, even two hours later, was still reluctant to wrap and go. As the house lights came on, he laid into a remarkable a capella take on "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4" and, with all of the stage mics turned off, bounced his voice off of the walls of the NCH like a bored teenager working a bionic yo-yo.
But as always, there's another context too — my companion that evening in the stalls was an Elvis fan who I'd met through friends. We had a shared love of good music and sport and, sixteen years, one marriage and three daughters later, still look back on our tentative first steps from Cassidy's on Camden Street around to Earlsfort Terrace in the rain. And, although neither of us would probably care to admit it, thank Elvis for taking care of the real business.