"Like punk never happened," they would say when an old warhorse cantered out for one more kick at the tired old can, negating whatever pop revolution had come and gone while the hacks bided their time. It would run more like "punk never needed to happen," if there were a few more Costellos up and running.
Hello, Elvis, and welcome. Welcome back into the building.
It was the first of three encores, and Costello was turning "Party Girl" into Smokey Robinson's "Tracks of My Tears."
Fans among the 2,500 paid, who had rushed the stage a few songs earlier as Costello was kicking the band into "Watching the Detectives," were turning the pit into their private little party zone, which would have summed up the concert if so much else hadn't already happened.
It had nothing to do with career overview or summation, which is what well-meaning hacks do to justify high ticket prices and send fans home satisfied with the purchase.
This was every argument you ever needed for touring with your real backing band instead of bloodless hired hands — the Attractions, Costello's great '70s/80s band, knew the road, and how to hit every pothole in it to make the ride bumpy enough for everyone in the hall to know he or she was alive.
Front and centre, an expansive Costello in a big dark suit he stole from Van Morrison (is it the only suit in Dublin?) was zooming from "Hi Fidelity" to "Pony Street," alternately hunched over his guitar and hoisting it skyward while Steve Nieve artfully dropped hammers and wrenches all over what sounded like four sets of keyboards playing at once.
Cut away from the tune selection and Costello, his voice urgent and knife-accurate, sang some of the most difficult, arabesque melodies since Pavarotti played this rink.
Cut back to the song selection and there was a stunning "So Like Candy" with purple and red lighting to suit the smolder and flame of the tune. There was Elvis Costello, who took the name because he could be anyone from Ray Charles to George Jones to Phil Spector if he so chose, because punk maybe didn't need to happen.
So before "Accidents Will Happen" and "Pump It Up" drove fans into the rain wondering what had taken him 15 years to come back to this city, there was Costello threading "Party Girl" into "Tracks of My Tears" and placing himself in a pop continuum that exists outside of trends or fashions and draws its lifeblood from songs and — well, lifeblood. The only good king is a live king. Welcome back into the building.