In their pomp, so keen were they to get started, that Elvis Costello and his three-man Attractions would literally run on to the stage. Many years later, the bodies may be less lithe and bones are certainly creakier, but Elvis Costello and The Imposters (Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, with bassist Davey Faragher replacing Bruce Thomas) do exactly the same thing. Everything else, however, has changed.
Despite being one of Britain's most prolific and most lauded songwriters, Elvis Costello's problem is shared by almost everyone with a similar lifespan: his claim to greatness rests upon work he recorded in the early stages of his career before he eschewed melody in favour of rhythm. When I Was Cruel, his current album, is thoroughly serviceable, occasionally inspired, but it's no Get Happy!!
This dilemma permeated his live set, which flitted staccato-like between When I Was Cruel tracks and stalwart singles. He caressed the new material, taking great pains to explain the provenance of the current single, "45," before barking, "Excuse me, I'm speaking," at a heckler calling for an old song. He even instigated a successful singalong on "Tart," and was sufficiently confident to field "Alibi," "Episode Of Blonde" and the jarringly abrasive "15 Petals" among the hour of encores.
With neither ado nor introduction, he gave the people what they wanted: myriad hits, from the still-heady "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and "Oliver's Army" to the dirges "I Want You" and "Almost Blue." Being the ever-restless Elvis Costello, however, means always having to tinker.
And tinker he did, mostly resulting in new life being breathed into a canon he clearly wished to have long left behind. With Costello's glare on full-beam, "High Fidelity," "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and "Accidents Will Happen" were taut, cacophonous and blasted out as if they were Green Day originals, while "Watching the Detectives" was doused in Nieve's theremin and was transformed into a psychedelic funk soup.
These were special moments, but that problem of Costello's remained as insurmountable when he departed at 11.10pm as it had when he had arrived at 8.45pm.