"It's not a bad old place, is it?" pondered Elvis, pausing to cuff away some sweat and take in a view of the Roundhouse scenery. Thanks to the indefatigable promoter Vince Power and his Mean Fiddler organisation, punters have been granted an opportunity to thrill again to the building's rock 'n' roll heritage, with a bit of assistance from adult-oriented radio station GLR and a DJ hell-bent on ramming home the building's classic-rock heyday with a diet of Stones, Free, Steely Dan and the Doors.
Apparently, this is just a brief blip in the never-ending saga of this ill-fated edifice. Soon, National Lottery funds permitting, the Royal Institute of British Architects is going to turn it into an architectural library, where silence will be golden. But don't bank on it. Ever since it was built as an engine shed which was too small to fit any railway engines inside it, the Roundhouse has been a field of aborted dreams. Having thrived as a haven for the loon-pants-and-patchouli brigade in the sixties and seventies, when Pink Floyd sent the place around the bend every Sunday afternoon, it has been a theatre and a Camden council-backed black arts centre. It fell into rack and ruin, then a shadowy consortium of property developers acquired permission to renovate it, and then nothing much happened except some fashion shows and visits by Chinese acrobats.
Elvis Costello first played here 19 years ago, in his early "killer dweeb" period, and judging by this performance he feels a rare kinship with the place. As a rock venue, it has plenty to recommend it. The high roof keeps the place cool, the clean circular structure offers sight lines no other London venue can match while promoting a sense of collective participation, and the acoustics (tonight, anyway) were immaculate.
Elvis and the Attractions rose to the occasion, providing a set that artfully combined the best of their recent collaborations with a crowd-pleasing dollop of their best-loved back catalogue. Their recent collaboration album, All This Useless Beauty, got an early airing via "Little Atoms" and "Why Can't A Man Stand Alone?," but soon Elvis was off into those evocative back pages with "Shipbuilding," featuring gap-toothed keyboard decorations from Steve Nieve. Costello's objective was to maintain a balance between material of all vintages, so for every "Veronica" or "Poor Fractured Atlas" you got an "Oliver's Army" or "Man Out Of Time."
Time has transformed Costello's relationship with his audience, so that where there was once venom-spitting confrontation, there is now mutual respect and affection. What Costello has lost in spleen he has made up for in interpretive skill, and he was able to wring new layers out of many of the songs. For "Pump It Up," Nieve switched to accordion to create a loose Cajun feel, while "Beyond Belief" displayed a sinister sulkiness.
Elvis is quite keen on the idea of himself as a ballad singer, and there was support for his argument in a version of "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" — Burt Bacharach is surely the most-covered songwriter of the past fortnight — and a flabbergasting "Riot Act." Further epic flashbacks included a piston-pumping "Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and a pacey finale of "Peace, Love And Understanding." Costello will be back on July 27. I might be, too.