Elvis Costello is a critic's nightmare. There is a flawlessness about the man, the music and the performance that, linked to the general public and critical acclaim makes it difficult to come to an accurate evaluation.
I'm reminded of that classical gent Ravel, who apparently worked to a strictly organised plan that determined in advance the number of bars in a piece along with what was to take place where, when, and how. Costello has taken this thoroughness one stage further. Not only each number but the entire concert in all its aspects is precisely orchestrated to achieve maximum effect.
Significantly, the thoroughness is itself fairly concealed so that, like Ravel, the outcome appears natural beyond even the natural.
Perhaps the master stroke, though, occurred at the very start when the man walked out with a humble yet self-assured casualness and opened the set with "Shot With His Own Gun," a piece for voice and piano, beefy with emotion, and daring enough in its conception and delivery to suggest we were in for a night of foot-stomp and full rinse.
After that the pace was unrelenting. Plenty of favourites, notably from Get Happy, plus a few new ones; "Clubland" and "You'll Never Be A Man" were performed with energetic panache. But it's the voice that does it. A voice with a twang like Duane Eddy's guitar.
Mention of whom makes me realise how much of Costello's success is the result of an evocation of distant but living voices from the infancy of rock 'n' roll — Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, maybe even the Everly Brothers, Elvis the First, and the ghosts of many others booming hollowly from the Dansette past.
I suspect that Costello may owe a lot to his dad, who was recently in this part of the world playing the local cabaret scene. Costello Junior is a trouper in the great tradition, an ace performer who knows all the tricks and the timing that makes for trumps every time.
In the context of that tradition not even Costello, I think, would put himself on a par with the greats. The content and the style are certainly derivative, and his talent seems to me to be one that has crystallised into a kind of professional perfection, rather than one that is evolving towards further revelations. It should also be said that he has nothing whatever to do with anything that might seriously call itself new wave, though funnily, but perhaps aptly, enough he will certainly inherit much of what was gained by the supposed revolution of '76.
So this, after all, is what Sid lived, fought and died for.