A year ago Elvis Costello was being written off for North, an album of (gulp) love songs. It's typical of his unpredictability that he has blasted back with The Delivery Man — an album for people who grew up thinking Costello was a punk — and this sole UK appearance in Britain's most rock 'n' roll venue.
As Costello stands lashing out song after song with barely a pause, he looks less like the musical adventurer who also released a classical album last month than the 1977 model. In those days he was a bundle of fidgety bile. Now 50, in a purple suit that looks a size too small, he is still so edgy he must get all manner of trouble at customs.
The set blends The Delivery Man with classics, such as "Radio, Radio" and "High Fidelity," that fit with the new record's scatter-gun energy. Costello hurls in lost gems such as "Blame It On Cain," the second B-side of "Watching The Detectives," and trashes the planned set list as he responds to the crowd's mood.
A spontaneous moment is the night's funniest, as he introduces the Darwinesque "Monkey To Man" by suggesting: "We should never... in any country... vote for anybody who is a disgrace to the theory of evolution."
A spectacular "Shipbuilding" equally mocks any notion that his political fire has gone out. With every line sung by the crowd, the Falklands-inspired song feels like a succession of hammer blows against any case for war.
The blistering energy is emphasised by occasional gentler numbers, including the eerie "Country Darkness" and a rapturously received "Good Year For The Roses." The night divides into a punky hour-long blast and another hour of encores, as Costello rediscovers his common touch and rock 'n' roll heart.