Back in '77 when the Sex Pistols were kings of punk, Elvis Costello was championed as the leader of popular music's so-called new wave. Where almost all others have floundered or disappeared completely, in '84, the reason Costello survives with his reputation not only intact but enhanced, is, simply, because he is the best British songwriter to emerge in the last ten years. For the first time in Ireland without his backing band the Attractions, for more than two hours at the Stadium he delivered a solo set of relentless intensity, wringing new and personally stark interpretations from a selection of the hundreds of great songs he has released on record over the past seven years.
It was a great night for the Costello fans who could soak up new interpretations of so many favourites but I suspect that for much of the audience it proved quite a hard slog, so that when Costello was joined by support act T-Bone Burnet for a 15-minute jovial, sub-Everlys, sloppy romp (which included the Beatles' "Baby's in Black"), you could see the smiles and hear the handclaps where previously for so long you could hear a pin drop. "Shot with His Own Gun" and "Shipbuilding" were the best of the few piano and organ songs respectively, but mostly it was just Elvis plus guitar, as bitter, ironic and perceptive as ever.
Besides bitterness towards the Tory Government, the music business etc. the predominant subject matter for Elvis still rests at that point between the failure of relationships and the myth of trust, where love is a battlefield. One brand new song directed at a former lover now settled with someone new contains the couplet "You make him sound like frozen food / His love will last forever." Elvis is still prolific and still ahead.