There's something exasperating about Elvis Costello's way of imposing himself on a chosen music. The Confederates, distinguished gentlemen of American rock, performed their chores dutifully, but there was no impression of a singer and band: it was singer backed-at-a-distance by band.
In the second half of the "Costello Sings Again" season, Elvis dumped all the chaotic energy of his Attractions set. It was a stately course through the King Of America songbook, pepped up with some suitably anguished covers. There was none of the scruffy abandon of the earlier shows; even the few solo songs sounded better controlled, more civilised. The overpowering venom of "Little Palaces" melted away to a poignant regret.
The more players he has with him, the more Elvis walks the plank. He sings his songs with the throttle on full: his phrasing is theatrical to a point where every lyric seems to hector some part of your well-being. The Confederates might have softened that rain of blows but their beautiful, almost silken backdrop of country rock techniques never parted for Elvis to move inside. Only in some of the final encores, with muscular versions of Errol Dixon's "That's How You Got Killed Before" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Your Funeral And My Trial," did band and singer merge.
A pity that the Albert Hall's throat swallowed the delicacies of Jerry Scheff's acoustic bass, the golden details of James Burton's lead guitar. A huge cheer was coughed up when EC called on an encore guest, a visibly underwhelmed Van Morrison. Van bumbled through three songs including a dismal "Jackie Wilson Said," and ran off. Poor fellow — why bother him, anyway?
After five hours of Costello over a couple of evenings, a kind of sensational boredom sets in. He picks perfect covers ("It Tears Me Up," "Pouring Water On A Drowning Man"), summons words no one else thinks to use, performs with inexhaustible nerve. But Elvis is, finally, too much.