In the past few years he's done jazz, a bit of neo-classical, and a gorgeous collaboration with Burt Bacharach, but now Elvis Costello has shuffled through his multiplicity of musical personages and decided to be his old self again. His latest album, When I Was Cruel, is packed with the kind of bileful, vitriolic, passionate, sublimely melodic outpourings for which he became famous in the late Seventies, and it says a great deal about the quality of these new songs that they provided many of the highlights of this one-off show.
Backed by a three-piece band who went by the name of the Imposters — although, in fact, two of them, drummer Pete Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve, were members of his time-honoured backing band, the Attractions (the odd man out was bassist Davey Faragher) — Costello was wired, taut, and bursting with energy as he whisked through a set that was a perfectly judged balancing act between old crowd-pleasers and unfamiliar new songs. All too often with performers of a certain age, the juxtaposition of old and new reveals an embarrassing shortfall in quality in the more recent material, but not so with Costello: the epic "Alibi," for instance, which is easily the best thing on the new album, stood shoulder to shoulder with the vintage Costello throat-catcher "I Want You," while the current single "Tear Off Your Own Head" was every bit as spine-tingling as the antediluvian "Waiting for the End of the World."
If a quibble springs to mind, then it was to do with the thinness of the sound: Costello, if memory serves me right, never employs a rhythm guitarist, and there were times here when he could have used one, most notably on "Man Out of Time," which lacked the majestic splendour of the recorded version.
Overwhelmingly, though, this show served its purpose admirably: to engage, move and entertain for every one of its 90 minutes a crowd that, from the balcony, seemed to contain a high proportion of men with balding pates, and to announce to the world that Elvis Costello wants to play rock 'n' roll again.