Depending on his next move, Elvis Costello's reformation of his backing band, The Attractions, may either prove to have been a brief Indian summer, or the start of a long and fruitful new partnership. Considering their performance together on Tuesday night, he ought to think about making the arrangement permanent.
Costello and keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas are one of the most perfect unions in pop - a trio of impeccable sidemen fronted by a triumph of nerdiness over adversity. The effects of their eight-year separation aren't visible to the naked eye, especially with the old numbers that kicked off the show.
On The Beat was a flashback to the seventies, when insurrection genuinely seemed to be nigh and Costello's claims to know "only two emotions, guilt and revenge" felt threatening. As they played it here, they sounded and looked exactly as they did then, if not more so, down to Nieve's tootling keyboard eddies and Elvis's yapping voice. Their raspy, frenetic performance of other archive songs, such as Radio Radio, a speeded-up Watching The Detectives and I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea, would have bagged them first place on New Faces as Costello impersonators.
But anybody can bash out old hits. The band proved their worth on the 10 songs from the new album, Brutal Youth. Elvis's return to basics, it reunites the songwriter with the venom of his twenties while the Attractions clatter away energetically amidships. Onstage though, the songs changed, as though adapting to their lofty surroundings. (Costello had, perhaps as a warning, introduced himself with "Welcome to the first night of the Proms".)
Pieces like Clown Strike and Sulky Girl were smoother, silkier, almost lounge-lizardly. On Clown Strike, Costello even indulged some jazzy vamping. The fluid interchange between Bruce Thomas and Nieve made for the boss's oh-so-ironic love lyric. Even those who find Costello's eternal peevishness irksome would have enjoyed the sumptuous cocktail-soul padding around it.
Favourite Hour featured just him and Nieve, playing the Albert Hall pipe organ. This relective number, the first of half an hour of encores, demonstrated that Costello is ageing and mellowing with unexpected grace. It also gave you pause to consider that his concerts could benefit from some editing. Most of his back catalogue of 500 songs seemed to have been aired tonight, and more definitely did not mean better. A judiciously chosen 15 or so would have made this one of the shows of the summer.