Some of the greatest enjoyment I have culled from "rock" music has been from bands like the Jam, Aztec Camera, U.K. Squeeze and, of course, Elvis Costello. These people belong to that unusually small group of plucky individuals who pick old handcuffs with new keys, taking old, perhaps even jaded styles, into modernity by re-fashioning their frameworks and adding new ideas.
26 songs — count 'em — 26 songs (if you include the encores) and, for those who curbed their desire to see the concert for fear of a bombardment of country, you guessed wrong. The style was given a nod of only three songs.
Quite clearly, this was a concert designed to encapsulate the best of what was, is and will be, with some five tracks from the forthcoming Imperial Bedroom (all of which illustrate a return to the style of Trust) and a collection of favourites.
What makes this "give the crowd what they want" attitude so utterly palatable, is the tight but rough-edged quality of the Attraction's playing. Possibly the best pop combo in existence, the Attractions reaffirm the best parts of the known material, whilst adding new zest by the sheer fire and skill of their playing. Steve Nieve's painfully brilliant classical runs and jazz inflections, Costello's cliched but beautiful raunch guitar-work, Bruce Thomas' precise drumming, and Pete Thomas' basswork, which defies limitations, creating melodic and almost chromatic basslines all over the fretboard. And, damn it, the ease with which they play!!!
Even Costello's lyrics which, like David Byrne's of Talking Heads, have become almost self-parodying, were pushed to the side tonight; shoved into a petty corner as the modern Elvis crooned. That voice, as warm and woolly as a heavy blanket on the coldness of a May night. wrapped itself, perfectly pitched, around very, very attentive ears. I've never seen an audience so appreciatively silent and wide-eyed, as Costello paced through numbers that demanded vocal perfection and emotion. Like "Good Year For Roses," "Alison," "New Lace Sleeves" or the Motown-ballad version of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," songs beckoning, almost demanding, quiet respect. And I've never heard an audience so appreciatively loud on the conclusion of those, and all other songs.
The Hall ran over with love and respect, simply because Costello is that rare thing, a performer. He never plays to the audience, but rather for them. Giving them not quite what they would expect, but serving it up on a platter so inviting that everyone laps it up. The gilt-edge to this is that Costello and the Attractions seem to enjoy the whole thing. When Elvis smiled, faces around me lit up, as if to say, "Hey, we've pleased him"; Costello was that much in control of the situation. But who's complaining?...
When absolutely everyone, audience, band and yourself, has toes tapping and big, silly, happy grins splashed lavishly across their faces, you know, beyond reasonable doubt, that your experiencing pure and unadulterated enjoyment. To end on a very cliched, but suitable journalistic note — and after all, it does seem in keeping — Costello made one and all "get happy. "