A nervous Costello used to be a dangerous Costello. Elvis used to thrive on his temper and sense of discomfort. If the audience showed any signs of complacency, Elvis would be on them with his little finger, blowing them away.
Elvis is a showman tonight, in keeping with his new Country singer / Tin Pan Alley songwriter image. The audience is full of couples who swoon and snog to the tearjerkers. "Sweet Dreams" is their field day. Unfortunately, Elvis' latest shape change has only led to confusion on the live front. He now has so many personas that they've become virtually irreconcilable. And the Attractions don't help.
There's the early angry Elvis, now the least convincing in the pack. This one attempts to wind up the band to urgency after each ballad. He performs all the old rockers, from classic "Detectives" to recent "King Horse," in a perfunctory bleat that soon comes to seem more like whining than passion. In fact, the old angry Costello has been severely cramped by the new balladeer, both in his ability to convince and in his ability to sing the harsher material.
A few months in Nashville has turned Elvis into a self-confident but self-conscious vocal stylist. As a result all the material from Almost Blue (and songs in a similar vein) succeed. The rest suffers. Meanwhile Elvis is up there whipping through Elvis, country singer, Elvis, punk hero, and Elvis, literate if wordy composer of Trust and the six or so new songs he debuts tonight. His pacing of these different styles is dreadful or demanding, depending on how you look at it. Most new fans wait for the hits, the old ones try to digest the new numbers.
Each time either faction looks like they're succeeding, Elvis changes style. Meanwhile the Attractions, seemingly a bit rusty, decide to compensate by overstating everything, aided by an energetic lighting rig that's busy doing the same. Bruce Thomas makes his characteristic runs up and down the bass but soon seems to be doing little else while Steve Naive is all flourish and no soul. The mixture of classical flourish and country understatement is a triumph on Almost Blue. Understatement doesn't come into it tonight.
So Elvis runs through it all, apologises for his nervousness, does three encores and leaves. Elvis' failures are far more easy than most anybody's successes. But he needs to reconcile his love of variety with a delivery that can give his music coherence within that variety. Roll on the Albert Hall.