I'm sure you know the feeling. On the way to a concert, or gig as it is sometimes termed, by one of your favourite artists, you are desperately hoping that it's going to be great, and you secretly fear that it's going to be crap. This was my feeling upon entering the latest installment of the Elvis Costello show.
The portents were good: he was playing with three people whose instruments suggested they might constitute a rock 'n' roll band, rather than some New Age nose flute ensemble, which is the kind of accompaniment our boy occasionally falls for. The reality was not so hot: the man who was inadvertently behind me wished to make it clear that he had not emptied the contents of his wallet in order to look at the back of my head.
Elvis took the stage, and it was clear that he has still not found a decent tailor. This does not matter in the least, because the charm of the man is that he looks like the fellow who sat at the desk behind you at school, who wore spectacles, was good at geography, and was livid that someone pinched his hot date at the school dance. Costello has always been that clever geek, the one who transforms his angst into miniature works of art.
Unfortunately, his performance was not up to par. The songs came and went, some of them decent, some of them dull. With his gift for lyrical invention and occasional melodic inspiration, Elvis might be considered the nearest thing we have to Bob Dylan. Sadly, unlike Dylan who put his words at the service of his songs, Costello too often does the opposite.
I was thinking the worst of the man. He writes songs with Paul McCartney for no good reason, he writes songs for Wendy James for no reason at all. Only Steve Nieve, the great keyboard player de nos jours, kept this leaking boat afloat.
And then came the last song of the evening. It was called "I Want You," and it is a desert-island essential. For the first time in the evening, Elvis bent to the task. He ripped the notes from the guitar, he sang those wobbly notes down his nose. This is the best thing anybody will see on stage this year, and I'm sorry if you missed it. It was a one song concert, but what a song.