Twenty-five years since his first hit and with a raft of new London bands mining the tense, late-70s new wave scene from which he originally emerged, for Elvis Costello the time for one last hurrah is now.
Earnest and full of pious pretension, Costello has spent the last decade collaborating with string quartets, film directors and past-sell-by-date sixties pop legends, while rarely troubling chart compilers.
Still, admirers have hung on his lyrical dexterity and queer yelping yodel as evidence that he is "a great British songwriter."
Returning to basics with a three-piece pub-band set-up, this career retrospective proves just how over-rated Costello is as both a performer and writer. His four or five inspired moments — "Oliver's Army," "Watching The Detectives," "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea," "Good Year For The Roses" and "Shipbuilding" — are counter-balanced by whatever else fills up the rest of his 20-odd dusty old albums.
Despite his best efforts to engage the audience through embarrassingly lacklustre singalongs and histrionic guitar antics, Costello and the crowd seem to know we are all just playing for time between his most famous songs.
When he starts to play tracks from his new album, When I Was Cruel, it is to a handful of hesitant applause. Upbeat or downbeat, the new songs are either a pale pastiche of Costello as a kid or melody-free experiments in trying to stay relevant. Throughout, Costello adopts his familiar stance — shoulders hunched, shrugging at his guitar without moving his feet. To his credit, the great pop that he has at his disposal he does not waste. "Detectives" sprawls out majestically over its sleazy reggae riff and Costello still puts his poignant all into "Shipbuilding."
The encore finally provokes a lusty audience rush to the foot of the stage but, once "Oliver's Army" is speedily dispensed, many are heading for the door, regardless that Costello has a few more songs left to play.