These are not my people, I think, looking at the audience. Admittedly, Elvis, Bruce, Pete and Steve were my New Wave — the first thrilling, stroppy signs of life to filter down to the Canadian backwoods and make me want to sing loud and kick people. So, of course I'm here for the nostalgia, for the comfy seats and the return of the golden age of The Attractions. But these — posh university rah-rahs fattened into suits, industry scum here to feel the quality, like the songs are a bespoke tailor's bolt of expensive cloth — are not my people.
By the time the four appear to the rattle of jewellery, the aggro oldies they tip into are exactly, and maybe all, I want. Short of Uzis trained on the front row. There's nothing like hearing a sneering "No Action," sharp as a trouser crease, played to a motionless house. Tight, swaggering, formation-dancing round the sussed intents of "The Beat," "Waiting For The End Of The World," "Beyond Belief," "Lipstick Vogue" — The Attractions are on top form.
Pete Thomas is still the most musical and urgent of drummers; Steve Nieve, still the New Wave king in skinny trousers and wraparound shades, cuts mad Farfisa escapades that almost duplicate the amphetamine skitter of Get Happy days. And Elvis, in the forgiving drape of a baggy suit, drops that grudgeful rasp and jerks into the mic, throws a few little lunges and smirks "Welcome to the first night of the Proms" in that unplaceable mid-Atlantic accent. It's almost then: it's hard not to believe The Attractions have narrowed and focused Costello's musical intention back to the dry, compressed fury that buzzes like wasps in a bottle.
Of course, this is 1994 and the Royal Albert Hall, and throughout the gig, the yuppies — overwhelmed by indifference or the promise of an early bed — are taking their cellphones and ironic ties to the door before Elvis has even touched on two per cent of his catalogue. Partly it's because even the oldies aren't carbon copies, Costello subverting tempo and phrasing just enough to recreate the edge that familiarity gums off. Maybe it's because the sentiments now seem a little alien — guilt, jealousy and revenge are always current, but the scorn fuelling "Radio, Radio" — "Marvellous radio! / Wonderful radio! / Fantastic radio!" spits Elvis — is almost quaint, nearly incomprehensible, to this well-fed demographic.
The stripped-down nastiness gives way, of course, to those big, gorgeous Showstopping Numbers Elvis always loved and which, despite the black undercurrents, eventually engulfed his career in Good Taste. It all sounds so pretty, whether it's the velvet venom of "Alison" sliding into the sequential logic of "Tracks Of My Tears," "Tears Of A Clown" and "Clowntime Is Over," or the familiarity of the beautiful "Shipbuilding," greeted tonight with a big, hypocritical Tory cheer. Still, it's an encouraging sign that Brutal Youth sports a brace of corking songs that qualify as new classics — the sterling guitar riffs of "Kinder Murder," the jaw-droppingly masterful twists of "London's Brilliant Parade," the chilling elegance of "You Tripped At Every Step" — precisely because the lushness is cut with icy glitter and great hooks.
Still, though. Tasteful. "Butlin's!" exclaims a colleague, pushing past me to the door. Perhaps so: since the film noir cliches of Trust, Costello's always been fascinated by cabaret of one sort or another, by the notion of the singer entertaining a cauldron of high and low-life more interested in their drinks and duplicity than what's onstage. Love and bile, tatty people in flashy clothes, spilled gin and velvet curtains.
Maybe Costello's twisted human touch, a prettied-up Trojan horse for the shallow and culpable, needs this kind of audience to make sense. All right, Butlin's then. Butlin's SW7.