And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, a story entitled "From One Great Artist To Another" or "Bisexuals to Bi-Focals."
It may seem a bit obvious nowadays to compare anyone with the great yawn-too-late sensation of the moment, but it's difficult to resist the temptation of setting Bowie and Costello, the acts this week heading back to base in the name of charity, against one another.
At the risk of sending Sylvian and the rest of the clone squad off in a pillow-gnashing tantrum, it looks blindingly clear that if there is an '80s equivalent of Bowie, it is, artistically, Costello. Apart from demonstrating an ability to produce a vast body of frighteningly wonderful songs, Elvis has played the smart guy with a series of images (in his case more musical than facial) — also, like Bowie, he's taken more than a couple of lessons from early Dylan. Somewhere in this apostolic succession, though, there's been a radical shift.
Bowie on the stage of Hammersmith Odeon is slumming it, standing on the lowest rung of his natural league, which has always been the big one. Costello, on the other hand, has always flirted more with failure. From the rusty edged psychotic bank clerk of My Aim Is True to the sad-eyed social commentator of "Shipbuilding" and "Pills And Soap," Costello has consistently placed himself on the receiving end of bad luck.
There's always been a great wave of blues splashing across his rhythm, the beautiful music of the reluctantly ugly loser. So while others bathe in stardust, it's a sad fact that Costello will stay soaked in sweat — which brings us to Dingwalls.
The fine dusting of beard has gone, there is no solo acoustic plaintiveness or piano-accompanied crooning and the horns, once used to give a soul flash to the encore, now form a less silver tongued backdrop against the boozy arrangements. Just for tonight, all fine distinction has gone, leaving a sound of brutal sway, reeking once more of backrooms and late-night drinking dives, revealing once more Elvis the pub rocker.
If you wanted to stomp along, it was heaven; if you wanted to listen (and not many did) it showed just how much the songs have changed since the days when he played this for real. He's no longer frightening because he's no longer broken up and threatening to break out — he used to sound like the man who'd been a nobody for too long and was beginning to get dangerous, now he's just a town crier, beginning to get tearful.
So he sweated his way through the set, forcing the energy into it, slipping in "Back Stabbers" and even tacking "Stand Down Margaret" to the back of "Big Sister's Clothes," but failing to disguise the fact that the newer songs are sinking even deeper into the realms of melancholy. "The World And His Wife" may have been skipped through with a falsely cheerful note but the tone of blue is too deep to obscure.
He played "Oliver's Army." The crowd went mad and then that was it. Elvis slunk off to drip quietly in the dressing room and I squelched off into the night.