Who'd have thought it? That the scrawny bloke who spat fire and brimstone in seedy London clubs during the late '70s would now be a contender in the Frank Sinatra stakes?
Elvis Costello didn't so much play a gig as stage a spectacle. True to his mischievous nature, he chose the home of classical music — the majestic Royal Albert Hall. And as if that wasn't enough, he hired the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the night with their penguin suits and professional polish. After an hour from E.C. and the Attractions (joined by pedal steel guitarist John McFee), the two mighty forces came together.
Their early efforts betrayed the fact that they had only practised for eight hours. Following a shaky "Shot With His Own Gun" and a jaunty "Accidents Will Happen," the Phils fluffed the intro on "Sweet Dreams." Elvis cracked a smile and quipped: "And then again it could sound like this!"
The mating wasn't a complete success. Sometimes the orchestra decorated the song like a Christmas tree — lots of gaudy knickknacks that added nothing of any value. But at other times (as with "Watching The Detectives") the song was transformed. Costello's words were given a suitably chilly feel.
The material came largely from the Almost Blue and Trust albums with a smattering of new items like the scalpel-edged "Town Crier." The other big difference was El's voice. He has learnt how to sing and yo-yoed his vocal chords with a dexterity that the Las Vegas crooners would give their cummerbunds for. His versions of "Clowntime Is Over" and "Just A Memory" were epic.
Finishing on "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding." the audience then demanded more. Elvis, his grey zoot suit now a tad sweaty, bounced back on and shouted: "We simply don't know anymore."
Seems he was right.