So much has happened in the space of two hours that it's impossible to explain it all.
There have already been too many words expended trying to pin down the talent of Elvis Costello, and it's ironic since he himself is a far more exact writer than most of his admirers. It's ironic, too, that it's this reputation as a writer on which his current status of seniority has been built, while the sheer musical virtuosity of Elvis Costello And The Attractions, as well as the man's power as a performer, tends to be overlooked until, as now, we're forcibly reminded of them.
And forcible it was too, never faltering in its multi-faceted impact. Where to start? At the beginning with the stark blow of "Pills And Soap," making anger tangible; in the middle with the tearing melancholy of "Man Out Of Time"; or at the end with the encores coming almost as light relief? There's a love song ("Every Day I Write The Book"), a party song ("I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down"), and, proving further the genius of this unit for pure physical entertainment, "Pump It Up" follows as an introduction to "The ladies and gentleman of the orchestra," both a tongue in cheek formality and a genuine acknowledgement of the contributions of everyone on that stage.
It's certainly deserved: the TKO horns, the backing singers, and the Attractions themselves — in varying combinations throughout the set — provide exactly whatever gusto or drama, tension or celebration, is required by each song.
It's a lot to ask, because each song is different, and the set is a dazzling chain of change and contrast. One song can squeeze the breath out of the audience — there are silences you can feel — and the next burst into rumbustuous exuberence. There are changes inside the songs too, so that even the oldest, like "'Watching The Detectives" and "Alison" are still alive and growing.
And it's music with meaning as well as movement: every song is about something that matters. In a sequence that leaves no doubt about commitment "Oliver's Army" (a musical delight with a hard message) is followed closely by a searing painful "Shipbuilding" and a frantic, accusing "Stand Down Margaret." And soon after, even the sick family drama of "The World And His Wife" is given extra bite as Elvis dedicates it to Cecil Parkinson.
What makes all this so special is that Costello cares equally passionately about his subject and about the music he uses on them: form and content are equally vital. You can choose to hear the songs as separate masterpieces, or listen to the music as a glorious whole. Searing, compassionate, or exuberant; frantic, arresting, or soaring: thoughtful or physical, it leaves nothing out except the mediocre. It surpasses everything else on offer.
Of course, I've witnessed plenty of performances recently that have been good — in their own way. This though, is (more than) good in every way. It makes everything else seem one-dimensional and immature. This is music that's grown up, with a discipline and precision even at its most fiery that make it all the more effective — but it's not necessarily for grown-ups. It's too heartfelt, too dangerously caring to be what's called "adult." It can make you dance, cry, and dance again. It can accuse and uplift. It can inspire anger and, because of that, hope.
I've just been to the thinking man's party and I'm wondering why I bother to go anywhere else.