The last time I saw Elvis Costello live, a few years ago, he was still doing his "wheel of fortune" gimmick. This involved a glamorous female assistant dragging audience members on stage to spin a giant wheel featuring names of his songs. Costello would then go on to perform whichever song the arrow was pointing at when the wheel came to rest.
That format was dispensed with for this show, which was strictly a no frills, back to basics affair. For some years now, he has been performing under the name Elvis Costello and the Imposters, which consists of two of his long-standing sidekicks from The Attractions — Steve Nieve on keyboards, and Pete Thomas on drums — along with relative "newbie" Davey Faragher on bass.
Over a mammoth two-and-a-half-hour set, this tight, well-drilled unit took us on a breathless journey through Costello's prolific recording career. The levels of energy and musicianship on display were remarkable, as the band tore through around 30 songs.
The opening salvo was a powerful reminder of Costello's early glory days, when every single and album he put out was an instant classic. The songs were short and snappy, and ran into each other with barely a pause for breath, never mind any between-songs banter.
"Watching the Detectives" and "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea" came fairly early in the proceedings, but there were plenty of other numbers which would have been familiar to anyone who owned This Year's Model and Armed Forces, his classic early albums with The Attractions.
As one of the best lyricists of this or any other generation, sometimes it was necessary to rely on memory to fill in Costello's words as the band kept up the relentless pace. Always one of the most unshowy of guitarists, Costello in his latter years also seems to have discovered his inner Pete Townshend, or maybe even his John Squire, as he revealed a predilection for several extended guitar "wig-outs."
After a rousing version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding," which got the audience to its feet, the band disappeared briefly from the stage. What followed was not so much an encore as the second half of the show, with around a dozen or so more numbers still to come, including a moving version of "Shipbuilding," arguably Costello's greatest song and a subtler counterpart to the angry rhetoric of "Tramp the Dirt Down," which also featured here.
Among the members of the near-capacity crowd were, we learnt, Costello's Liverpool-born mum Lillian, to whom he led the audience in a chorus of "Happy Birthday." He still had "A Good Year for the Roses," "Alison," and "Pump It Up" up his sleeve, which he held back to the very end.
We emerged into a typically rainy night, in absolutely no doubt about two things: that we had got value for money, and that Costello and his bandmates are still at the very top of their game.