On his last Stateside jaunt, the closest Elvis Costello came to the Big Apple was the auditorium of a Long Island college, where he performed a solo set that made it clear the brilliant Spike was no fluke and that Costello has indeed emerged from a rockist rut.
This time around, on his first full tour with a band other than the now-disbanded Attractions, Elvis finally made it to Manhattan to demonstrate the wisdom of ditching that once-mighty combo.
The throng was greeted with a justified swipe at the Palladium's politically-incorrect corporate sponsor, Burger King, and a cheerful acknowledgement of the venue's devolution from respectable concert hall to vile yuppie dance emporium.
With that business out of the way, Costello and the six-man Rude 5 (guess who's the polite one) launched into a lean, mean two-and-a-half hour show that neither pandered to expectations nor shortchanged the artist's intensely loyal New York fans.
The band — Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, US session pros Jerry Scheff and Larry Knechtel, one-time Dylan cohort Steven Soles, and Tom Waits' sidemen Marc Ribot and Michael Blair — lacked the vintage Attractions' ability to pump vitality into rock's corpse, but made up in depth and swing what it lacked in visceral punch.
Though the likes of "Pump It Up" and "Mystery Dance" seemed relatively limp in their new incarnations, it's hard to imagine the Attractions getting this much out of Spike epics like "Let Him Dangle" and "God's Comic." Meanwhile, "Man Out of Time" and "Brilliant Mistake" benefitted from the expanded arrangements, while timeworn faves like "Watching The Detectives" and "Clubland" received rewardlingly eccentric reworkings.
Rumoured surprise guest Paul McCartney failed to show up, but Costello did perform the pair's four co-compositions, "Veronica" and "Pads, Paws And Claws" from Spike, and "You Want Her Too" and Flowers In The Dirt from Macca's current disc.
McCartney's absence was barely noticed, however, thanks to Costello's recent graduation from sullen artiste to confident, commanding performer. The new charisma was most apparent during the mid-set solo acoustic interlude that saw the unlikely rebirth of "Red Shoes," "Girls Talk" and "Radio Sweetheart" as friendly singalongs.
Small wonder he's such a Beloved Entertainer.