Elvis Costello may not have much faith in Santa Claus but his Christmas present filled even the greediest fan's stocking — some 35 songs in nearly two and a half hours.
Seasonal trappings were pretty thin on the ground but nobody was really expecting any tinsel. Not until he got around to "TKO (Boxing Day)" towards the end did he even acknowledge the time of the year. And when he finally wished us the season's greetings, he hoped that 1984 would be better than 1983. It's certainly been a pretty ugly year one way and another.
The year that began with a wobbly start for Elvis in front of a symphony orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall (scarcely surprisingly, we've seen nothing of the video or the soundtrack) ended with Elvis back doing what he's best at — playing prime pop songs of greater or lesser social significance but all of them with a fervour that sets him apart from any other performer currently available.
I'm biased to the extent that I find everything he does fascinating. Parts I find inexplicable, like the symphony orchestra or his country phase. There was even a gig at Hastings Pier Pavilion when he forgot the words to "Alison" (!) — but I've never found him less than engrossing.
Skipping through the highlights, he started with just Steve Nieve for accompaniment for a few songs including a chilling "Pills And Soap," brought out the full ensemble for a raucous soul punch on "Let Them All Talk," turned "Watching The Detectives" inside out for the umpteenth time (this rendition was fiercely staccato with some searing downward riffs from the horns) and then jumped back aboard the soul train for a spell, climaxing with a truly magnificent version of "Man Out Of Time" that ended with him hunched over his guitar strumming furiously.
He then reverted to his original beat group format for a rousing "Mystery Dance," a cleverly reworked "Shattered On" and a spellbinding "Shipbuilding" during which the silence of the rapt audience was awesomely intense. The horns and girls returned for "The World And His Wife" ("like Dynasty or Dallas" he said) and a showbiz rearrangement of "Alison" which he seemed to dedicate to Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross(!).
The encores just kept on coming and included 1984's answer to "Blowin' In The Wind," the solo acoustic "Peace In Our Time," Joe Tex's "Tell Me Right Now," a slow, emotional "Clowntime Is Over," "Every Day I Write The Book" complete with "soul revue" twirls, a final soul sacrifice on "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and an all-consuming "Pump It Up."
Through it all, Elvis switched the pace with matchless skill and the Attractions — with Steve Nieve in rampant, inspired form — followed him precisely up and down the emotional scale. But the lasting impression was of Elvis' hunger for all his songs, new and old.
It was hard to believe he's been going for seven years or so — he had all the committed vitality of someone pushing their second album. I'm just glad he never became a superstar.