With his crumpled suit, shaggy hair and unruly beard, Elvis Costello — this year's model — resembles an eccentric uncle. Now fronting his Rude 5 combo, a motley collection of veteran musicians, some of whom have been round the Brill Building block with Phil Spector and the real Elvis, Costello appears to be maturing into a mellow version of his former ornery self.
So it seemed for much of his opening night in London. A positively laconic version of "Accidents Will Happen" and a 12-string cavort through "You Bowed Down" sounded like a softening up process, canapes before the main courses from Mighty Like A Rose.
In reality neither atmosphere nor performance gelled until it was too late. A marshmallow mix didn't assist the cause, though it was possible to appreciate the fractured country chordings Larry Knechtel delivered in "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror."
"The Other Side of Summer," Costello's bad vibrations commentary on eco-disaster, lacked the textured melodic impact of its recorded blueprint, while "So Like Candy," one of several collaborations between Elvis and Paul McCartney, kept threatening to turn into the latter's "Another Day."
The band finally settled on a workable groove during "Playboy To A Man," guitarist Marc Ribot cutting into the grown-up rock with some high stringed twang that developed into a formidable cacophony.
Costello switched to piano for "Couldn't Call It Unexpected," an incongruously tender moment in his canon, then dissipated the momentum with a long section that was too close to ersatz Tom Waits-styled cabaret for comfort.
A viciously rewritten "Tramp The Dirt Down" poured bile over the establishment and may have made ears blush in Dulwich — Elvis is like a pitbull when he's roused — but this was not one of his more enchanting evenings.