Elvis Costello & The Attractions played a "secret" gig in a Hammersmith pub last Friday and proved that despite current legal troubles they are still very much in business.
In one of the group's most convincing live displays since their early gigs, the group highlighted material from the new album and dusted down familiar faves for the specially invited audience of 300.
The lucky crowd were sent tickets for the gig by manager Jake Riviera after they had entered an NME Thrills competition that had backfired on the paper and co-sponsors Oval Records.
The competition offered an Elvis Costello Demo Tape from 1976 but the prize was withdrawn after objections from Costello and Riviera, who promised competition entrants would receive a "mystery prize" instead. They weren't kidding.
The gig had a refreshing atmosphere, far from the taint of the music biz, with El fans from all areas of the country and all ages and shades of the rock audience spectrum. Ashen-faced NME Editor, Neil Spencer, and a couple of other hacks who'd sneaked in (the paper was not informed of the gig) were clearly shaken by coming face to face with their readers. Did they appear to be somehow more noble, more enlightened than most rock audiences? Why were so many wearing glasses?
After a warm-up from the Wild Wax Disco, El and the Attractions quickly seized the time and become progressively more compulsive as the set progressed. Standouts were highly atmospheric versions of "Chelsea" and "Detectives" and all of the new material, which had an engaging precision and intricacy.
First of these was "Five Gears in Reverse" which seemed to articulate something of Costello's feelings about his current legal battles. "Human Torch," "High Fidelity, "Possessions" and "Girls Talk" followed, with "Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" providing a fitting climax.
Elvis himself was in rare stage mood, laughing, and joking with the audience, causing many to wonder why he didn't bring this aspect of his personality to bear at his concerts more frequently. "Accidents Will Happen" was dedicated to Paul McCartney.
The gig was recorded so highlights may yet surface on vinyl. Afterwards, the writ-strewn combo mingled with the crowd and signed books. sleeves, and limbs. Also present were Basher Lowe, Dave Edmunds and Martin Belmont, the last of whom joined in on the encore. "I bet the NME never had a band this good before," quipped The King at one point. Well we did have The Beatles at an NME Poll Winners Concert once El, but we ain't arguing.