With the kind of performance that ends in the spontaneous combustion of both band and audience, Elvis Costello and the Attractions laid waste to their past, left previous superlatives in tatters and went out on a high that creates a hush of anticipation for the future.
I'm not saying this was a religious experience but that looked suspiciously like a halo floating over the horn rimmed one's head. With a couple of thousand witnesses to the magic of the miracle man I expect it won't be long before the vatican gets the message. Saint Elvis of the Seven Holy Exclamation Marks!!!!!!!? It has a nice ring to it.
The spirit level was lifted initially by Rank and File, young country rock 'n' rollers from Austin, Texas who wore big hats, introduced Johnny Cash to the Beatles, ran rings 'round the ring of fire and drew blood with duelling guitars. Within their chosen sphere Rank and File could hardly have been better, they have the spirit of Joe Ely and the witty melodicism of Mental As Anything. And that's really saying something!
But Elvis Costello took my breath away. I have seen him six times, each one stunning, but this was something else again, a gig of such passion and good humour, so well planned and played you felt it might pass into legend before your very eyes, Like Dylan and the Band rolling thunder, this was a person of pop, genius driving.to the limits of his and your satisfaction with a beautifully interacting band of upstanding musicians! This was a cause for exaggeration!
He came on swinging with a ten piece troupe, Elvis, the Attractions, the TKO horns and the Afrodiziak singers, blowing horny hell out of a bunch of Costello's most soulful stompers. In the National Stadium in Dublin I thought the brand new horn section flattened much of the material, over-riding the interior subtleties of the Attractions' playing, but now TKO have become part of the sound, stepping in and out to highlight and punctuate. Songs were transformed: "Possession" shuddering and breathing, "Watching The Detectives" surprising, soulful and witty.
Half an hour in TKO and Afrodiziak departed. leaving the Attractions to run the show for the next heart-stopping hour. They have a sound all of their own, a concentrated mash that weaves and changes with virtuoso complexity, but always pushing forward Elvis' voice. Bruce Thomas is the world's most unfashionable bassist, prefering subtle underground runs and rumblings to the popular plankety-plank riffs. Steve Nieve, a sartorial disaster swings like a king through a keyboard jungle, while Pete Thomas somehow manages to combine loose spontaneous druthming with a solid, anchoring beat. Even Elvis' guitar work rose above its usual scratchings as he picked and licked a few tasty lines. The Attractions dress the insides of the songs, moving easily from complexity to simplicity, watching each other to anticipate the open ended changes and grouping in behind Costello's superb vocal commands. Elvis has taken an ordinary voice to an unexpected height, singing with assured melodic control, twisting his melodies 'round a playful tongue and rising to a passion that too often became a shout in the past. He wound himself up to a crying soul during "Clowntime Is Over" with the full ten-piece ensemble rolling slowly behind him to devastating effect, and then bulldozing the house down for five steaming encores.
Two hours on the top-line! Can I get a witness? This gig had to he seen and heard to be believed: if they haven't made a live recording of this tour then I demand a full scale international inquiry. Elvis was simply scandalous. What is this thing called love?