Without ever quite giving the impression of being listless and jaded at the end of the "Tour To Trust," Elvis Costello's Friday night performance suggested that he was not comfortable in the obvious trap of London's least personal venue.
And with The Attractions cranked up to a level that sometimes bordered on distortion Costello's subtleties of word and mouth disappeared into the vacuum. The effect was tantamount to a watchmaker using a sledgehammer to drive home a silver pin. The band ticked over meanwhile but never sounded like exploding.
England's most literate and sophisticated songwriter can never be said to be dull and boring — the familiarity of his tunes breeds contentment. Still, he flirted with safety here while The Attractions substituted a frenetic percussive assault for their recorded melodic invention.
Of the ballads, "Shot With His Own Gun," "I'll Take Good Care Of You" and the sublime, owning-up "Clowntime Is Over" were all memorable — Steve Nieve's florid acoustic piano working better than his up-tempo cheesy Mexicali organ on "Pump It Up" or in the disguised cheerful venom of "Oliver's Army."
Anyone who gets Elvis' gist realises that he functions best on a mixture of scintillating instrumental energy and a diversity of lyrical techniques — he's straightforward and multi-faceted.
Too bad then that the usual savage stabbing of "King Horse" and "Radio, Radio" came across as minor skin wounds — Costello's barbed points are better aimed from closer range.
Of course Elvis was fully aware of the night's shortcomings (apparently he worked hard to lessen them on Saturday). "Cheer up for God's sake!" he exhorted us without bitterness and later expressed dissatisfaction at his lack of communication.
The second half of the evening had more swagger and incision with one new song ("Human Hands"?) building around a clicking bass, funky walking rhythm and Nieve's embellishing piano (shades of Allen Toussaint). The resurrected song "The Beat" ("for all of you who were with us in the Nashville days") also struck an appropriately celebratory mood.
But those peaks were isolated and even a raucously good-natured "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" missed its jolting response.
Elvis paid some country dues to Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, messed up "Big Sister's Clothes," and surprised everyone late with a sublime version of Randy Crawford's "One Day I'll Fly Away." The Attractions shook and finger-popped on their own standard "Watching The Detectives" but no one was really getting blown away.
With a talent as classy as Elvis Costello's you knew this was merely a good, workmanlike performance. As he is a proven craftsman you also knew that the star of the show couldn't have been satisfied at having to second that emotion.