Two performers armed only with guitars and a sense of humour, and neither of them going by the name of Billy Bragg. Hard to believe, ain't it?
But Costello's leisurely solo jaunt (back and forth across America last year and a few Blighty dates to occupy him up 'n' till Christmas) is done out of desire rather than necessity. Maybe it's the danger that makes him do it. The Attractions are a stultifyingly able outfit, capable of backing the sweetest cabaret croon or belting out the likes of "Pump It Up" on their last rockin' tour. Remove them and maybe Costello will fumble and fall? No chance.
Like Feargal Sharkey, he's taken the time to develop a voice until, if still not pleasant, it's unmistakably his. And it's the piercing power of Elv's larynx that places the punch behind his minimal accompaniment (guitar, piano, Fender Rhodes — all played by Mr Talent himself). Also there to help him is a faultless feel for chord substitutions — taking songs like "Girls Talk" and "Red Shoes" out of the realms of enthusiastic pub rock and into the seasoned performer's vocabulary of subtle shifts in mood and momentum.
Being alone on a relatively bare stage means talking to the audience, and Costello has a successful if studied line in self deprecation. But he's no match for the magnificent T Bone Burnett. Despite making the unforgivable mistake of wearing brown shoes with a black tux, his gooky knee drops and hilarious delivery ("Art Movies" is a classic) were real winners.
The two duetted as the Coward Brothers (on their reunion tour) towards the end, and it was their selection of sympathetically sung covers that made the evening, rather than defeating the object.