It's such a joy going to see Elvis these days. The three hour drive to the dismal hole called Cromer was just a taster for the evening's real fun. That took the shape of guerilla manoeuvres in the undergrowth outside the hall, creeping up on the local youth for the purposes of a finely rehearsed but wholly immortal exercise in corruptive capitalism — i.e. threatening the buggers with fistfuls of fivers until submission to bribery seemed like the only sensible option.
Two tickets scored, finally, we ambled into the foyer, past the first reception committee and into the second, who helpfully showed us back into the car park. A piece of camera strap had been detected beneath Adrian Boot's fetching disguise and, it was subtly implied, either his fingers or the camera would have to spend the evening outside.
There were contingency arrangements. Dispensing with everything but the essential details — medical cards, lawyers' phone numbers, self-defence aids — we successfully stuffed several cameras beside our inside leg measurements, survived the door check and found a convenient pillar to spend the rest of the evening behind.
It had, of course, been forcibly stressed by Costello Incorporated earlier in the week that no one associated with a music paper would be allowed into the first night of this latest tour, and past history suggested that the consequences of not behaving could be ugly. In other words, it was par for the course for the opening night of a new Elvis Costello tour.
The new show is, naturally, about the new album, with a few old favourites scattered around the beginning and end. From the urgent drum shuffle that led into "I Stand Accused," through "The Beat," "Accidents Will Happen" and "Temptation," the patterns of success and failure that characterised the set were firmly laid out.
The most obvious asset is that, without studio sound control, the ersatz Motown figures, particularly in the keyboards, that put the album close to elegant pastiche are lost In the lightning rush of a live sound, making the song snappier and more forceful.
Against that, as the songs get more concentrated and lyrically complex, it all becomes a bit much. At several points in a one and a half hour set it became difficult to distinguish whether we were being entertained or given an impromptu course in the correct use of the English epigram within the perfect pop song. He's very determined in this; but the effect is indeterminate.
The redeeming factor, as always, is the Attractions, still the best pick-up band in the business and on Saturday working with a vengeance to ease Elvis's wordy proclamation into a satisfying dance form. The closing salvo — "Chelsea," "Oliver's Army" and "Pump It Up" — was brilliant.
It took, ironically, the battered neo pub rock of Clive Langer — he of Deaf School fame — and band to pinpoint the stiffness of Costello's act. Working With a maximum of three chords and a rambling, anecdotal lyric style, his hilarious nonchalance achieved all that Elvis couldn't; sweat in place of smirks, humour instead of tension, amusement as opposed to education.