To see little Elvis Costello in his baggy suit and bow-tie singing "Watching The Detectives" with the full 75-man might of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra soaring sublimely away behind him at the Royal Albert Hall last night was like witnessing some spectacle plucked from a Ken Russell fantasy.
In its way hiring the Royal Philharmonic was every bit as excessive a rock 'n' roll gesture as the Pink Floyd's wall or Electric Light Orchestra's flying saucer.
That Costello managed not only to carry this melodrama off but also to turn it into the greatest triumph of his already impressive career is proof that his talent extends far beyond anything he has so far achieved on record.
Certainly when the evening began there was no hint of the munificence to come.
Costello and his band — without the orchestra — bashed competently and boringly through a dozen songs like carefully programmed automatons.
But it was not until the second half of the show, when the orchestra had delicately drowned Costello's singing on "Shot With His Own Gun" that the singer confessed "I'm absolutely speechless with fear. I hope we acquit ourselves properly."
After Elvis's little confession, the orchestra swept into a triumphant arrangement of "Accidents Will Happen," then "Sweet Dreams of You" and "Just a Memory."
Despite his awe, Costello seemed always in control, constantly sensitive yet also powerful.
His own band too — especially keyboard player Steve Naive — contributed much to this unique and memorable performance.
The evening was not without flaws. The swarm of no fewer than eight television cameramen occasionally made the event feel a little like a transmission of Top of the Pops.
And Costello's refusal to play an encore, after closing with a chilling version of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?" earned him a few boos.
But the magic created when Costello, his band and the orchestra gelled more than made up for such petty irritations.