These are serious times for Elvis Costello and his audience.
As dusk approached, thousands of pairs of fiercely glinting spectacles descended upon Hammersmith Odeon to pay homage to the fiercest of all.
Costello had pitched his tents for five nights and the omens were heavy.
But before the serious business, there was the appearance of Sam Phillips — no relation to the man who discovered the other Elvis, not even of the same sex.
She seemed catatonic with nerves, arms rigidly at her side, but the self-deprecating observation that the support group was there to guide people to their seats broke the thickest of the ice.
Sam Phillips has four or five pleasing songs in a light rock vein with emotionally charred vocals. But her main claim to fame is that she is the nearest thing rock has produced to Lauren Bacall: shoulder-length blonde hair with a pencil-thin skirt to the lower calf and a tendency to make men whistle.
Elvis Costello has much going for him, but he bears no resemblance to Lauren Bacall. Hair pours from the upper levels of his body and it is only the siting of the spectacles that provides some clue to physiognomy. Contrary to popular imagination, he is a very big man. The contrast with his runty 1977 prototype is complete Perhaps it is in the nature of all. Elvises to swell.
Costello, backed by the Rude 5, was in fine voice and that voice is one of the best there is. From the angriest growlings through to the quietest vibrato, he retains a clear view of the tune.
The musical highlight of the show is, oddly, a cover version: Mose Allison's sharply titled "Everybody's Crying Mercy And They Don't Know The Meaning Of The Word." Larry Knechtel's classic Hammond/Leslie keyboard sound and Marc Ribot's guitar combine to chilly effect. But the main meat is a double helping of social commentary for which the man is famed. In the notorious anti-Thatcher rant, "Tramp The Dirt Down." Costello threw in new verses excoriating Major and his classless society and ending with a proposal to arrest the Queen Mother. In the stalls, they glinted and roared.
Then, in "God's Comic," the singer summoned up an image of God as an absinthe-fuddled dreamer furious with the human race for the mess it has made of its purpose-built, luxury world.
During these songs. Costello seemed to expand to Old Testament proportions, the wild beard growing visibly.
Elvis Costello is an angry man with a pointy finger. Entertainment is not always a priority. He's mean, Green and not part of tne machine.