Costello comes, Costello goes and Costello, of course, is received (even on this distinctly faulty form) with rapture by his reliably jubilant crowds. And increasingly affluent crowds — six quid tickets and still, I noticed, they're arriving in cabs.
From last year's multi-person operation, Costello has pared things down to feature simply the ever-impressive Attractions, augmented by some very fine Gary Barnacle sax intrusions.
And to concentrate, apparently, on rock 'n' roll. The opening kickstart through "Sour Milk-Cow Blues" set the pace and we were hustled into an uptempo collection of near-knuckleduster rushes on the likes of "King Horse," "Clubland" and "Mystery Dance," while more subtle ballads and blues were almost dismissed with undue haste.
And still, he persists in eternally reshuffling great things like "Shabby Doll" and "Detectives" without doing them any particularly interesting service.
There were some gorgeous heatspots, though. "Beyond Belief," the new "Hope You're Happy Now," described succinctly by Elvis as a (much-welcomed) piece of "mindless spite"; a breathlessly complete "Lipstick Vogue;" and a timely raid on "So You Want To Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star".
But the whole was distressingly one-dimensional, and marred by an unscheduled interval, due to Costello's self-confessed sore throat, from which it never really recovered.
Encores saved the night from anti-climax: a cynical new solo exposition on the bleak outlook from a 1984 cradle; a biting "Peace In Our Time;" a beautiful "Shipbuilding." But poignant, irate, pertinent, human, tender and perfect as his articulate protests might be, the predictable euphoria which greets such an awesome trio seems to obscure its limitations: the lack of hope and the message, ultimately, of unanimous strength only in defeat and helplessness.
I doubt if many more than me were mulling over such problems as they were guided thrillingly through "Red Shoes," but considering I've always counted myself unshakeably a fan, any elation I'd wanted to feel was definitely incomplete.
I'd been here before. And just coming back and doing it again — with however much feeling — isn't always going to be enough. Not even for Elvis Costello.