With his finest album in more than a decade, The Delivery Man, Elvis Costello has rediscovered the pungent alacrity of his best work. However, since he first emerged as the bug-eyed belligerent troubadour of punk, Costello has covered a wide stylistic territory. The worry, for those holding the tickets, must have been which Costello would show up. Would it be the glutinous balladeer of North or the string quartet and orchestral composer of this year's other Costello album, Il Sogno?
The appearance of Costello in tight-fitting purple jacket spitting out the vitriolic title "How to be Dumb" allayed any fears. From here until the set closers of "Pump it Up" and "Oliver's Army," it was a show that concentrated on the part of Costello that is the eternal punk outsider — with extra firecrackers in his musical box of tricks.
The ballistic fury of long-time drummer Pete Thomas and the seething dervishes of keyboard player Steve Naive ensured that this was a high-energy attack combined with mathematical precision.
From the intense claustrophobic blast of "No Action," on to the dizzyingly high-speed take on "Radio Radio," he proved able to make old songs potent and timely. Like one of his obvious mentors and role models, Bob Dylan, this incarnation of Costello proved able to seize on his most fertile period and, with the wisdom and experience of age, expand and explore its perimeters.
A splendidly creepy take on Leon Payne's "Psycho" showed the roots of the material that makes The Delivery Man so engrossing. On the title track of the new album, Naive's pained melodica and Costello's frazzled guitar captured the thick atmosphere of fear and rebuke. Mining its fantasy images of "Elvis and Jesus" brilliantly, Costello created a curdled male fantasy. Introducing "Monkey to a Man," he described it as a gift handed to him by our simian forebearers. "We should never, on any account, in any country in the world, vote for anybody who is a disgrace to the theory of evolution," he explained.
Alongside new album highlights, such as the clammily titled "Country Darkness," there were intriguing dips into his past. "High Fidelity" and "Blame it on the Cain" proved incendiary displays of rock 'n' roll at its most euphoric and intense.
An overlong jam on Blood and Chocolate's "Uncomplicated" hobbled the set's momentum, while a pained first encore of "Nothing Clings Like Ivy" was a marked contrast to the furious preceding blitzkrieg and served as a salient reminder that Costello has no need to resort to muso indulgences.
Happily married for a third time to the American jazz chanteuse Diana Krall Costello may be, but he still has a steely glint and a sharp edge. Tonight, along with his band, The Imposters, he recaptured his role as rock's perennial outsider, and it suited him fine.