Elvis Costello is this extremely talented smear of sneer, spectacles, sarcasm and adenoidal snarl who I've dropped in on, at my own expense, every couple of years for, ooh, nearly the past decade. Tonight the tickets were free, but when I entered it didn't feel like home. Dear me. I never dreamed I'd give Napoleon Dynamite a bad review ever.
There was something far too cosy, a complete lack of jarring edge, about the first half of this gig, the opening night of a short residency for The Imposter at this serviceable, fake, red velvet theatre. So there the man was, guitar in hand, spectacles perched, but what a shame – the sneer and the sarcasm seemed to have been lost in a facelift.
Yes, Howard Coward smiles a lot, is matey, and lets someone in the audience rattle his strings during a solo. He hams it up a bit, dedicates songs to members of the audience and is generally so nice that one can't help but form the impression that Elvis is a very happy man. And as the Attractions play, with such intuition you'd think they were all born in the same womb, even soul-shatterers such as "Blue Chair" sound like they are rocking with mirth. This somehow doesn't feel right to me.
Mmmmm, and all the while I kept wondering: why? We are — whether you realise it or not — in the middle of a seismic eruption of new groups that makes the remaining class of '77 and all that seem haggard. Mere professionalism of performance can't mask that as, for example, the current Damned illustrate.
Like Vanian, Elvis has plundered every idiom of music going — from country through R'n'B to soul — in order to keep his flame burning. Only Costello is a good deal smarter and always stamps his peculiar brand of vitriol over harmonic ideas he has purloined. It's that quality that makes him an original. That became ever more clear as the band went through a six song segue, taking in "Jack Of All Parades," "Lipstick Vogue" and "Clubland" while the Attractions wound themselves into a grimacing frenzy.
If anything, though, what worked against them prior to the encores was that band's sheer virtuosity. The Thomases, Pete and Bruce are skin-tight as a rhythm section and Steve Nieve makes his keyboards squeal, sigh and shudder like no other, yet at times they stretched out so much that all the tension went missing.
What with the show initially climaxing with a bruised "I Want You," it was inevitable that Elvis and his kinetic crew would pile on the pressure during the encores. And so they did, through numerous songs, gaining ever more momentum. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding" had so much hysteria it felt like World War III was about to break, "Pump It Up" thwacked our toes with an iron rod roar and …
Well, I won't spoil it by giving the ending away, but the zenith of Napoleon Dynamite's show is quite apocalyptic and involves Cait O'Riordan (I believe) lurking in the shadows. Like I said, I never dreamed of giving Elvis a bad review – and I haven't. Because when he stops smiling, his sneer still withers like no other.