There's a real back-to-basics feel around Elvis Costello right now. Having eschewed the more artful alleyways the last decade or so has led him down for his acclaimed new studio album When I Was Cruel, his fans are now reaping the rewards of this return to form in his concert performance.
It’s not that his various side-projects, collaborative efforts or tendencies towards AOR balladry have been bad, far from it, it’s just that what the man does best is rock, and rock royally.
The most obvious thing about last night’s show is that Costello clearly maintains incredible passion and belief in what he is doing. His reputation as a moody, difficult artiste may well hold true for the media but when it comes to his fans he gives it his all — and a good deal more than is required of him.
The tried and tested favourites are predictably great, but it is the numbers from When I Was Cruel that reaffirm Costello’s continued relevance to the modern music. The bitter lyrics and spiky guitar playing of "Spooky Girlfriend," the sinister sonic experimentation of the chilling title track, the hard-rocking 15 Petals, and the anthemic "Alibi" are all evidence of a songwriter truly on top of his game.
Surrounding the Elvis 02 Comeback Special is the live greatest hits package which the majority of the crowd have come to hear. With accompaniment from original Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, as well as bass replacement Davey Farragher, that greatest hits package is blasted through with a fervent exuberance hamming home the brilliance Costello has consistently created over the last quarter century.
"Watching The Detectives," "Shipbuilding," "Good Year For The Roses," "Oliver’s Army" and of course "Alison" are all simply untouchable specimens of perfect pop music.
Not one but two encores later everyone leaves the venue delighted, not least by the looks of it the main Attraction himself. Costello is in an enviable position where he firmly resides as a fixture of the musical establishment, yet at the same time staunchly remaining on the outside looking in with a cynical sneer.
He’s come a long way since the frustration, tenderness and punky attitude of My Aim Is True and, weirdly, come full circle right back to where he started from, albeit now residing as one of rock’s most talented, versatile and respected statesmen. A pretty striking return to form.