With the reopening of the Playhouse Theatre, Edinburgh may once more play host to the dazzling elite of international stars. Resisting the temptation to join the ticket queue for Lena Martell and Petula Clark I eagerly settled into my seat for this special Costello gig due to be his only UK appearance this summer and promised as the festival showcase.
Oh the comfort of a seat! After eight straight nights of suffocating sweaty clubs, it's a delight for me to sit back and enjoy the wonders of a concert hall once more. Admittedly the atmosphere is less intimately convivial (club gigs tend to become more of a social event than a spectacle to be viewed) and this undoubtedly counted against the Subterraneans on their debut.
Fronted by the anorexic chic stick insect known as N*** K*** ('the best dressed man in 'town'?), they chewed up chunks of Television-cum-Pretenders intensity, spitting it all out rather haphazardly with a lack of either warmth or arrogance, which both surprised and disappointed me. Admiration and imitation alone cannot combine to produce creativity, and the audience soon voiced its collective displeasure. A sad waste of potential – this opening slot would have better suited a band like Bristol's Apartment, who attempt to use influences as a foundation for further experimentation and accordingly deserve exposure
The Rumour meanwhile strived manfully to overcome the literal and metaphorical gulf twixt performers and audience. Minus GP and erstwhile keyboard maestro Bob Andrews, this new streamlined combo nevertheless managed to raise spirits sufficiently to be rewarded with sporadic outbreaks of applause. Drapper Brinsley Schwarz occasionally produced flowing guitar lines so pure and clean that I closed my eyes to dream, while his opposite number, the halting amiable bear-like figure of Martin Belmont drove home the rhythm with a venomous enthusiasm rarely displayed by men of his years of experience.
An old 45 "The Frozen Years" proved to be the highlight of a thoroughly enjoyable 40 minutes, yet a slightly ropey reading of "Have You Seen My Baby" (as performed by everyone and his uncle, including Ringo Starr) and the soulful "I Don't Want The Night To End" also showed their wide range of ability and appeal. Obviously still looking for that extra spark of innovation, but they're no less satisfying for all that.
The interminable chatter all around me is finally silenced by the dimming of the house lights. Three thousand strangled cheers greet a lone spot angled on the centre stage figure draped over his guitar. To a solitary haunting piano backing, Elvis Costello delivers his opening salvo – "Shot By His Own Gun," a new opus of stunning simplicity and compassion. Its tender approach (vocally/instrumentally) will immediately draw comparisons with "Alison," but I believe that, if anything, "Shot" is the more genuinely moving song.
Pause. I need space to think; gather my thoughts before I lose my perspective. To begin such a prestigious show with a new song – no, not just a new song, a different style of presentation (no guitar, no bass, no drums) – is a brave challenge, with no guarantee of success. Their emotion is not easily encapsulated within the contemporary music idiom, but Costello had hushed the crowd, leaving them vulnerable. He was ready to strike.
Bang. Bang. The two Thomases (Pete drums, Bruce bass) run on stage and fire into "Accidents Will Happen" and "On The Beat," sending the audience into a delirious frenzy of bodily response. The Attractions form such a brilliant cohesive unit that Elvis now claims more freedom to reach out. His guitar playing is all too often sadly overlooked, but tonight his flurry-attack (outstandingly effective on "Don't Want To Go To Chelsea") is gloriously intense.
Half hidden, half hiding, the unsung star is doubtlessly Steve Naive whose precise empathy on piano and keyboards served to illustrate perfectly the lyrical insights of the material. Without exception, his deftness and flair were prime components for alternately tranquil beauty and stifling intensity. "Green Shirts," taken slightly faster than on record, and "Club Land" (perhaps a future single) hinged magnificently on his contributions.
Choosing standout moments becomes almost futile with such a performance of all-round composure and spirit. The third new composition, "You'll Never Be A Man" with its (possibly) self-deprecating lyrics recalls the emotional tussle of the first album, followed by "Oliver's Army" and an elongated "Watching The Detectives," both satisfying the paying customers without descending to parody level.
But for one song as a microcosm of the whole dramatic show, you have to plump for "Lipstick Vogue." Swinging dynamically from the darkly brooding softness to the celebratory clarion call of the chorus, its aural jerks are fiercely mirrored by the onslaught of stage lighting. Shafts of penetrating green dazzle through the drumkit, bathing the band in a ghostly glow (though Elvis himself is spared this eerie visage thanks to the continual presence of a white spotlight) until dispelled by a sudden flood of yellow.
It is, as they say, a total triumph. In barely three quarters of an hour the man and his band had given an utterly superb performance, virtually unsurpassable in the rock spectrum today. Apart from a minor quibble about the shortness of the set (quality versus quantity?) I could find no cause for complaint.
However, the encores (three of them) did seem somewhat rushed and perfunctory. On "Pump It Up" for instance, Elvis even seemed to forget the lyrics in his haste, but recovered in time to introduce the individual band members, who thoroughly deserved their share of the credit and glory, though I usually despise such showbiz tackiness.
But forget these wee grumbles of mine – I'm in search of the ultimate gig after all – at its simplest, this was a great great show. It was entertainment and passion and excitement and belief. What do you want – blood?