This was surely the bravest and most original concert of the year, in which Elvis Costello took the biggest risk of his never-predictable career and emerged triumphant. He has performed solo before, but only briefly at benefits or at concerts where his band, The Attractions, were close at hand.
His set included a duet with supporting artist, T-Bone Burnett, the American singer-songwriter who also normally appears with a band, but for over two hours he was alone on stage, accompanying himself on both acoustic and electric guitars and pianos.
That in itself was a revelation, for he has never come over as a great instrumentalist, yet he backed himself in boldly minimalist style, hardly playing an unnecessary note but transforming many of the songs with new arrangements. Even more remarkable was the perfect balance between instrument and voice, particularly when he played electric guitar, and the way in which the freedom of solo performance allowed him to improvise or burst out into emotional, passionate and energetic passages, as in the new treatment of "Pills And Soap," with its quietly furious lyrics now matched by staccato piano bursts.
He tackled the full range of his repertoire, from crooned soulful ballads, like "Almost Blue," to country songs, political pieces and even up-tempo rockers, on which, often for the first time, it was now possible to fully appreciate the lyrics, with their bitter or witty jumble of puns. The songs stood up well to the treatment, and so did the man himself, who revealed an unexpected sense of humour.
When joined for duets by the gangling Burnett, they switched to a spoof of the Everly Brothers reunion, with close-harmony treatment of country songs, the Beatles, or even Scott McKenzie's hippy kitsch classic, "San Francisco."