One of the skills apparent in an Elvis Costello show of recent years has been the great songwriter's ability to mix rare fare to delight aficionados with the better known hits of his career that less devoted fans have come to hear. This show failed to achieve that balancing act until its final rush for the tape, with some audience members deciding that the ballad-tempo beginning of Sunday's version of "Oliver's Army" was a self-indulgence too far from them to stick around.
Earlier on though, veteran followers were transported back to Dunfermline and West Calder and the off-the-beaten-track Get Happy! tour nearly 40 years ago as Costello and The Imposters revisited the sound of 60s r'n'b for the opening salvo, which included a superb gospel re-arrangement of Imperial Bedroom's "Tears Before Bedtime" by keyboard player Steve Nieve. Whenever backing singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee were deployed (including a one-mike trio version of "Alison" with the frontman), that soul vibe returned, and many of the highlights of the night – including a fine "Everyday I Write The Book" at the end – fitted that template. The two women also added some delicious detail to the codas of other songs including "Watching the Detectives," "Party Girl" and "I Want You."
Elsewhere it was as much Nieve's show as Costello, the pianist hopping from the concert grand to a panoply of other instruments, and that duo tracing their collaboration back to the re-workings of Costello's songs on an early US tour. The songsmith also took to the piano himself to air a song from his upcoming music theatre project, as well as revealing that Burt Bacharach is a collaborator on the upcoming album with The Imposters, whose catalogue under that name was represented by just one song, "American Gangster Time."
If that suggests a less carefully-structured concert than we've heard, that is probably true, as is the fact that the Costello voice was not on its most accurate form, particularly at the start of the night. All that conceded, there were still few greater pleasures than listening to a master at work for two and half hours.