This year's model and the Attractions were brought last Friday into the, ahem, strife-torn territories of Belfast from Dublin courtesy of Irish hi-speed rail. Da Blighty Hacks and their escorts, meanwhile, flew in from London on a wing and an atheist's mumbled asides. I had no immediate impression of the hostilities.
I had thought at least to cop a view of Strummer and Mick Jones and a few of their cronies in paramilitary drag throwing a moody shape or two against the barricades while the troops looked on superciliously.
But the lads from Clash were nowhere to he found, and the war's presence at Aldergrove airport was relegated to a number of desultory wiremesh fences, tank-traps, and a roadblock manned by a contingent of soldiers who at first glance looked too young to be taken seriously; then you clocked the artillery they were wielding and forgot all about the ruddy, boyish complexions and kept your head down and the gabble clamped.
Da Blighty Hacks, on their first tour of duty here, were only mildly alarmed when their driver announced that he carried a revolver and accepted with commendable nonchalance the information that the hotel at which we were billeted was not so long ago redesigned by something explosive lobbed through the restaurant window. "I wasn't hungry, anyway." reflected Elvis' PR. Glen Colson (and didn't you just know he'd make an appearance somewhere along the front line!)
It was St Patrick's Day in Belfast, but as we motored into the city there was little evidence of either celebration or devastation; we could have been anywhere on the South Circular.
The Micky Jupp hand were onstage, ignoring the impatient demands of the Ulster Hall audience for Elvis, as we arrived. The strangled echoes raced through the draughty hallways, followed by the swearing and stomping boots of restless locals in loudmouthed jackets and catalogue trousers (to borrow a description from Ian Dury).
Elvis and the Attractions were in their dressing room sharing a drink and a joke with Da Hacks. There is some talk of their American tour, history so recent that the ink's still wet on its pages, a gruelling but satisfying jaunt from all accounts, despite the hazards of travelling in sub-zero temperatures and blizzards that reduced the tour bus to a barely mobile wreck by the time the reached New York.
It was by then without one door, smacked off in a collision with a snow drift, and had to be pushed along the freeway by our freezing heroes (overtones of Eastwood's The Gauntlet, here).
It is, however, made clear the moment that EC and the Attractions bang into "Waiting For The End Of The World" that seven weeks of intensive US gigging has honed to a vicious edge music that is anyway sharper than that of almost any other current rock band. The last time I saw the outfit in action was at the Nashville In December and they were lagging slightly, but still putting out more heat than most of us could take without screaming.
Tonight the music is slicing across the airwaves in lateral sheets, the sheer impact of which is unimpaired by the inconsistent acoustics.
They perform 18 songs (four of them encores) in something like 80 minutes. It's one relentless rush at the gates of hell, with venom pumped straight off the stage and into the bloodstream.
Time was when Elvis moved not at all onstage. He'd stand icy calm amid immobile at the stormcentre of the musical carnage, maybe flickering an eyelid if he seemed occasionally moved, yelping lyrics to songs of truthful vengeance with all the hypnotic passion he could muster (which was some passion, Harry, believe me!)
He's still no Nureyev on the boards. but he's developed this sudden jerking movement that takes him maybe two or three steps either side of the microphone whenever he decides to dash off one of his briefly alarming guitar figures (they're almost too brief to be described as proper solos).
He did it first on "Less Than Zero," and repeated it again on "The Beat." That time it conveniently carried him out of the way of a crowd of loonies who staged a pitch invasion, shouted few obscure slogans, and were hastily dragged away to whatever fate awaits such dramatic interlopers (later identified as members of a band called the Outcasts, who pulled a similar stunt when the Clash played here). Elvis ignores them and gets back on the case via "This Year's Girl."
On "Watching The Detectives," Elvis forsakes his guitar to stroll out along some edge of paranoid fright, and "Pump It Up" and "You Belong To Me" relax the tension and bring the set to a thrilling conclusion. Still, Belfast is rabid for more, and they perform four exhilarating encores: "Mystery Dance," "Miracle San," the devastating "Radio, Radio" (one cinch of a single) and a climactic, destructive version of "I'm Not Angry" that exhausts as all.
Then Elvis rips out the lead from his guitar with whiplash reflexes and vanishes. "ALLLVERSS COSSTELLER! T'ANK YOUSE ... ALLLVERSS COSTELLER!" yells the emcee as the Attractions speed off behind him, with Pete Thomas walking straight through his kit into the wings.
The night, though, it still young. Elvis and manager Jake Riviera arrive back at the hotel in the grip of a mischievous humour that provokes them into engaging Da Hacks in a quick bout of verbal wrestling.
An unfortunate New York correspondent is Mr Riviera's first target, and he makes the mistake of answering back: he pats up a valiant rearguard defence but Jake outflanks him, cuts off his line of retreat and forces a points decision.
Elvis, meanwhile, is delighting in his own impersonation of the Van Morrison of the post modern generation. He becomes so intimidating (to the considerable distraction of Glen Colson, who apparently feels responsible for the egos of Da Hacks) that one of our number makes a discreet exit that's possibly more involuntary than we would like to believe.
"Just because someone gives me a good review doesn't mean that I'm going to fall at their feet." Elvis emphasises (though no one has recommended this action).
"I don't need you, or you, or him, or anyone to tell me that I'm good. I know how good I am. I didn't need anyone to tell me that This Year's Model was a good album, I knew it was.
"I don't think it's the greatest album ever recorded. It's not going to stop the world. But I had the imagination to come up with that album, and I expect more imagination from the critics who wrote about it."
The London Evening Standard wonders how Mr Costello feels when he reads of comparisons between himself and the likes of Bowie, Neil Young and Bob Dylan.
"I don't give a s---," replies Mr Costello succinctly. "I've already forgotten who Bob Dylan was."