Two of the three Costello gigs in this country are ample proof that he's still one of the finest song craftsmen / song performers currently working in rock 'n' roll.
The Saturday afternoon before he Auckland show saw Costello front the microphone for the Varsity Radio B. Radio Hauraki who, mind you, had a hand in promoting the man ironically refused to have him on air: Costello later that night dedicated "Radio Radio" to Radio B with a stinging slap at Hauraki: "It pays to know the good guys from the bad guys."
On the varsity station Elvis played his own selection of music. It wasn't an interview but Costello-plays-deejay as he trotted out Feelgood's "She's A Wind-Up," James Brown's "Sex Machine," Teardrop Explodes' "Culture Bunker," the Who's "Legal Matter," and before Heaven 17's "Fascist Groove Thang" he knocked those people who used synthesisers for "whining" and praised the new rhythmic dance approach of Heaven 17 et al.
Saturday night at the local barn (LC Centre, what else?) and Dave McLean's Little Criminals provide the heat treatment as support act. It's pub R&B of the type that Dr. Feelgood still tote around and the Criminals do it well, right down to McLean's cockney off-the-wall mannerisms.
And then Elvis with that grey suit and bow tie. A tight bracket of "Accidents Will Happen," "Strict Time," "Hand In Hand" and you knew it was going to be something special. The sound was good (for the LC Centre) if a touch loud and indistinct in the vocals, and the crowd was responsive. Track breakdown and you get three from My Aim ("Alison" of course), five from This Year's Model ("The Beat" and "Watching the Detectives" stood out), from Get Happy (a bluesy "Can't Stand Up" and a firey "King Horse"), three from Armed Forces ("Oliver's Army" and "Green Shirt"), five from Trust, (the epic "Clubland" and "Watch Your Step" were highlights) and only one from Almost Blue — "Good Year For the Roses." He previewed songs from the new album Imperial Bedroom. ("Pidgin English" emerged as one of the possible aces) and turned out one or two covers in the form of a perfect version of Smokey Robinson's (thanks Alastair) "From Head to Toe" and Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny."
The Attractions were, naturally, the last word in proficiency although keyboards player Steve Hart and bassist Bruce Thomas occasionally over played. But three encores of two or three songs each and no-one felt cheated.
The Manawatu Sports Centre is new and vaste — it's like two aircraft hangers have been welded together — not a rock 'n' roll club. Daggy and the Dickheads provided support and Daggy from Taihape kept warm by diving all over the stage Bob Geldof style. All clean fun.
Sunday night and Elvis and the Attractions confronted the 1500 or so in the crowd at 8.20. The sound was more precise, more balanced than the night before but the show was essentially the same except that "Big Tears" was substituted for "Radio" and "Clown Time Is Over" from Get Happy was included. "King Horse" and "Clubland" were monumental but the meagre and lukewarm crowd could only get Elvis back for one encore.
On balance the Auckland show was the better rock 'n' roll event, but anyway you look at it, two consecutive nights of Costello on his present form can only be magic.