Just when you thought he might be getting predictable... El has always been a bit of a one for the tricky turn, the unnerving swerve, just as you're sure you've finally got him pinned down. A man as able as he has the ability to make those artfully planned Big Career Moves seem at once as obstinately obtuse as they are crushingly obvious with the benefit of hindsight.
There was the country album, pilloried for treading a self indulgent dead end but now appearing the natural primer for a host of purer wares (check the Gram Parsons and Loretta Lynn racks), and accusations of similar personal excess on the partly self-produced Imperial Bedroom clouded the fact that here was the man's finest set of songs in the most imaginative setting.
Glorious, but uncommercial — and then as the shutters came down exiling him to Kult Korner, he promptly performed an elegant about-turn to deliver his most popular record in ages with Punch The Clock.
And now, rather than follow the all-action soul revue of the last tour, Costello has sneaked a page or two of our very own Billy Bragg's slim tome and set out in the land of the free with nowt but himself and the barest tools of his trade.
The stage of the Avery Fisher Hall must seem awfully big when you're standing up there all alone but for Costello he might have easily been back in the Hope 'n' Anchor for all the nerves he showed. Working through a set replete with equal proportions of staple standards, obscurities and new tunes, Costello was simply perfect.
Feted by the worshipful, some studiously observing the auspicious nature of the venue, the rest succumbing to the regulation US rock 'n' roll yahoo abandon, Elvis strummed his way through avowed classics like "Alison" and "Kid About It," rarely performed gems "Riot Act" and "Talking In The Dark," and a clutch of spanking new efforts which may (or may not) have been called "Worthless Thing," "Love Field" and "Home Truth" (wait for the upcoming Goodbye Cruel World LP for confirmation). And fear not, by the sound of them he's as sharp as ever.
The show stopped with unadulterated delight as he slid, Las Vegas style, behind a piano keyboard for a brief tussle with the ivories. Bossing a technique that was concentrated but certainly minimal the resulting "Just A Memory," "Motel Matches" and "Shipbuilding" were, need I say it, spellbinding. The kids went crazy.
And so he succeeded. Passing the most crucial test of a performer, bereft of galloping band, visual distraction or bellowing PA, Costello simply took a group of people and made them his.