At last, Elvis arrived in Belfast after two recent cancellations. The last time he was here was when he played the Ulster Hall in March 1978. Perhaps it was a combination of these two factors, coupled with his lack of commercial success in the last few years, that made for the poor crowd. Only 700 turned up in a hall that can hold over 2,000. Yet it was those who stayed away who made the wrong decision. The atmosphere was relaxed and intimate, the sound was clear and precise, the show was the best I've ever seen.
It opened with a recording of "Pills & Soap," then Elvis and the Attractions took the stage with "Accidents Will Happen." The band breezed through 14 songs which had been the basis of Costello's set in the "Bedroom's Tour." For "Kid About It" and "...and in Every Home." Elvis dispensed with his guitar and let his fingers accompany his vocal. Yet the highlight of this opening group of songs was Smokey Robinson's "Head to Toe." Elvis' exaggerated gestures of interpretation had both the crowd and himself smiling. And never before have I heard such an aggressive guitar sound in "New Lace Sleeves." It is a compliment and a credit to Mr. Costello to say that even in the face of such an excellent collection of songs and an equally excellent performance that I expected more, and this was not a night for disappointment.
As the final note of "Clubland" faded, the TKO Horns (at least two of which are ex Dexy's) took the stage and the show began in earnest. This latter half mainly consisted of new material. The album we were told would be released in July. What can I say about the new songs? They were aggressive, paunchy and indeed perhaps the fact that there were no new ballads is significant. I loved it Southside Johnny eat your heart out. "The Invisible Man" deserves special mention, a song owing a lot to Steve Niave's piano playing and a song for which Elvis replaced his electric guitar with an acoustic one.
The main set came to a close with yet another version of "Clowntime is Over." This time Steve played the song on piano, only reverting to organ for the last verse. The audience yelled for more — who wouldn't? And Elvis returned with the Attractions to play three more songs, two of which perhaps have a special significance to Belfast. "Shipbuilding" was dedicated to "Harland & Wolff," whilst in "Oliver's Army" Elvis sang
We could be in Palestine, overun by a Chinese line,
With the boys from Belfast, the Mersey, Thames & the Tyne
My night was made. Who could ask for more? Well the crowd certainly did as Elvis left the stage once more. He obliged by returning with the TKO Horns to play "Pump it Up" and "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down." No one could contain themselves as the two saxophonists danced around the stage and EC grinned broadly. Elvis left to tumultuous and well deserved applause, with a promise not to leave it five years until next time. On this showing he's welcome anytime.
Praise is also due to the Attractions, immaculate as ever, playing as a tight-knit group and yet as individuals. The audience also deserve a mention, whilst small it was enthusiastic and appreciative. The quality if not quantity was there.