Hardly your typical Elvis gig this, but we've learnt to expect the unexpected this year: tacky ads in the rock press proclaiming the arrival of The Pope Of Pop. Some wacky new late-night venture calling itself the Choka-Doobie Club. A tiny venue of rare elegance and intimacy — situated just off the Euston Road in the basement of "Portlands" — that filled up in minutes with familiar faces (Tracey Thorn, Richard Thompson, Roddy Frame, Andy Kershaw), music hacks and others in the know. Memories indeed of the spirit of the early Stiff days, this particular enterprise coordinated I'm told, by Elvis' wife Mary.
But firstly, who, pray, were "The Screaming Nobodies"? The Pogues? No... the Screaming Nobodies, a poor man's JoBoxers who were rather ugly but helpful in revving up the crowd. The patient were rewarded when the solo Elvis Costello walked on stage around midnight to deliver a strong batch of twelve new songs on acoustic guitar. His fluid 45-minute performance was warmly received; but a flurry of brand-new material in such a cold raw state is hard to judge, a problem to absorb in the first place amid a boisterous audience. That said, some songs immediately smacked of mainstream Costello, some had a pronounced "country" flavour not far from the original "Honky Tonk Demos" of yore.
"The Next Time Round" — straight and forward, rousing, commercial even — made a good opener. Elvis claimed that amnesia stopped him playing any old tunes, and "Indoor Fireworks" followed, a slower number toying with left-overs from "Only Flame" and "Home Truth": "It's time to tell the truth / These things have to be faced / My fuse is burning out." Then straight into a short song, "All You Thought Of Was Betrayal," simple and direct like "Peace In Our Time," rolling on like "Sitting and thinking." More familiar, "Hope You're Happy Now" sounded great taken less hurriedly. "Why Don't We Even Try Anymore?" was — yee-ha — countryed and perky by contrast; co-written with John Doe of US band X (not sure about this...), its mood required something approaching a bray on the chorus. Elvis then introduced "a song about a soldier," a plaintive ballad I couldn't really decipher, which he followed with another uptempo number that passed me by all too quickly called "The Big Light." The moderately paced "Shoes Without Heels," a moving tale you could say, proved a further highlight and set the scene for the vigorous "Down In The Blue Chair": "It's my turn to talk / Your turn to think / Your turn to buy / My turn to Drink / Your turn to cry / My turn to sink / Down in the Blue Chair." Stirring stuff to be sure (helped along by a Pogue in the audience on harmonica) that brought the tally to nine. Elvis left the stage momentarily.
Someone shouted for "I Stand Accused." "Don't blame me" retorted Elvis, returning under the spotlight to strum another newie. "Wear It Proudly" went from mellow to near frenzied and will doubtless benefit from fuller accompaniment on vinyl, but "Poison Rose" was just too slow and drawn out for my liking though poignant. Elvis got his memory back for a drastically stripped~down and tense "Deportees Club," so quiet it was barely recognisable. "Brilliant Mistake" ("It was a fine idea at the time / But now it's a brilliant mistake") signified a return to classic mainstream Costello in the mould of "Accidents" and "Worthless Thing." It seemed to pick up vaguely the opening riff to "Shipbuilding" before the bridge of the song, but nothing came of this — except the closing line became "...now I'm a brilliant mistake." With this possible lapse into self pity, Elvis promptly disappeared into the appreciative crowd and that was that.