There are showmen — and then there is Elvis Costello. For decades now, he has refined the art of commanding a stage.
Tonight’s performance is no less than a masterclass. To keep an audience at the edge of their seats for the best part of three hours is no easy feat, yet it’s something that Declan McManus — as he’s known to Her Majesty’s Revenue &
Customs — does with aplomb.
It helps that his music is so varied, and he’s not shy about playing his best known songs. He’s also a very funny presence — Jerry Seinfeld will do well to garner as many laughs in this venue on Sunday night. Furthermore, Costello has created a veritable funfair on stage — a big wheel, festooned with the names of dozens of his songs; a "go-go cage" in which a pair of female dancers , and assorted members of the audience, can shake their hips to his music and one of those strength testing gizmos in which you bang a metal base as hard as you can with an over sized hammer.
These attractions — and the assistance of figures plucked from the crowd — ensure that the set list varies each night. It’s a ploy that generates a sort of anything-goes environment and you get the impression that it keeps things interesting for Costello and his fine three-piece band, The Imposters.
The music spans an entire career and encompasses so many genres it can be difficult to keep up. Straight-up rock, lounge music, vaudevillian variety hall.... Costello chops and changes at will.
In truth the beginning of the show drags a little, despite Costello’s insistence on galloping through the songs. But it’s not long before flashes of his old brilliance comes through. "(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea" sounds immense — and Costello’s guitar playing Is a thing of real beauty — and it’s followed by a heartfelt rendition of "Good Year for the Roses," replete with some judicious keyboard playing from long-term cohort Steve Nieve.
Old favourites "Alison" and "Oliver's Army" provide obvious highlights, but some of Costello’s newer songs can hold their own in such august company, not least "National Ransom" from 2010.
Still, it’s the material from his early days that resonates most, and few of those present are likely to forget the outstanding set-closer any time soon. "I Want You" is a virtuosic triumph — proof that his voice and his ability to coax magic from six strings remain as brilliant as ever.