Elvis Costello and his Attractions were in astringent form last night, still dishing out the domestic dirt, airing the soiled laundry and chucking around the crockery, but underpinning their reunion was a sense of celebration and a set packed so tight it almost burst its seams.
Elvis is hardly the angry young man of yore, as a 38 year old successful professional that's maybe just as well, but he hasn't allowed complacency to stand in the way of misanthropy when it suits his purpose.
From the start, with Steve Nieve and the Thomas rhythm section scratching out a tinny 45rpm sound, Elvis was on guard, singing "Every time I hold you, I just want to put you down." Once they careened into "Sulky Girl," carved in the same stone as early Who and Kinks garage rock, we knew we were in the company of a man who can forgive but won't forget.
Tears stains stayed etched throughout "Kinder Murder," an example of the better ballads on Brutal Youth. Only "London's Brilliant Parade" seemed superfluous to requirements.
The business end of the set commenced with an airy "Shipbuilding," Costello forsaking his guitar to concentrate on the vital mixture of sentiment and bleakness before the tempo increased again in the metallic bridge that spanned a remodelled "Watching The Detectives."
Costello's pop credentials stood out anew in "13 Steps Lead Down" and a frantic "Radio, Radio" but his ambitious nature was better served by the cool wordplay of "Favourite Hour" where he held the naked spotlight and Nieve pumped away at the Albert's organ, as it were.
Encores were plentiful, including a meandering segue of "Alison," "Tears Of A Clown," "Clowntime Is Over" and "Accidents Will Happen." By now the hall was reverberating with satisfied nostalgics reeling back a few years and enjoying the sensation a great deal.
Elvis Costello and the Attractions play the Royal Albert Hall tonight and tomorrow (box office: 071 589 8212).