The Pier is a huge outdoor venue on the west side docks which has taken the place of Central Park over the last few summers as NYC's prime outdoor showcase for rock concerts. The enormous expanse tends to mute even arena-rockers like The Clash, so it was no surprise that the subtle intricacies which mark Elvis Costello's punning wordplay ended up getting swallowed on this oppressively humid mid-summer's night.
Still, even if it proved impossible to catch every turn of phrase, the magnificent Attractions, led by the "Sultan of the keyboards" Mr Steve Nieve, along with the four-man TKO horn section, punctuated the proceedings with their own emotional drive.
"Let Them All Talk," the lead-off track on Costello's new album Punch The Clock, served the same function in the live show, getting things off to a suitably rousing start. "Watching The Detectives" was the first (and one of the few) oldies, this time compressed into a breathless, non-stop rave-up, in contrast to the dramatic set piece it had been in previous stage incarnations.
On this occasion, the wide-screen treatment as reserved for other songs, like "New Lace Sleeves," where Elvis launched into an interlude of scat singing, or the current single "Everyday I Write The Book," in which the horns pumped out a Caribbean-flavoured backbeat that magically transformed the sticky urban heat into a tropical celebration.
The major revelation, though, was Elvis' crooning on the set's slower numbers, marking the new-found maturity of the one-time "last angry man," both personal and musical. His deliberate reading of "Shipbuilding" was made particularly poignant by the presence of a large aircraft carrier docked by the concert site and lit up as if it was a stage prop.
"When we could be diving for pearls," mourned El in a voice so plaintive that it finally didn't matter if 6,000 or six people were listening; the moment was a personal triumph, just as the heartfelt finale "Clowntime Is Over" turned into a self-referential statement about growth and facing up to responsibilities. Likewise, "Alison" was sung with warmth and compassion, the kind of generosity Costello has hinted at in the past but never embraced quite so fully.
It was a sober, assured Elvis Costello on display, though the ensuing three encores brought out the high energy soul man as his cover of the O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" segued into "King Horse."
"Pump It Up" wrapped things up with a deliriously stuttering Costello paying homage to Otis Redding on "I Can't Turn You Loose."
Like David Bowie, Elvis Costello might not seem as interesting now that he's "normal," but his music and character have not stopped expanding by any means.