The start was breathless — four songs banging up against each other like late-running commuters at the turnstiles: coming through, make way. "I Hope You're Happy Now," noisy and rollicking; "Tear Off Your Own Head," busy and sneakily poptastic; "High Fidelity," brisk soul dancing away; "Uncomplicated," muscular and snappy.
Fifteen minutes or so, not a word said, barely a pause between final chord and first drumbeat, corrections made on the run; energy. But even before the first breath was taken, in the Texas torch song of "Either Side of the Same Town," you could hear the base notes of this night's show and it wasn't knock-me-down rock 'n' roll. What permeated almost every corner of the next two hours was what has always fed Elvis Costello's music: country and soul.
There was the Chicago groove underneath "Everyday I Write the Book" and the deeper well of "Flutter & Wow," the usually raucous "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do" done Opry style followed by a rockabilly take on "Luxembourg," and even the sleazy cabaret lounge just behind the veil of "New Lace Sleeves" picking up a hint of rye rather than cheap scotch blend.
This is one versatile, almost infinitely flexible band of keyboard adventurer Steve Nieve (who was criminally low in the mix for a little too long), seemingly ageless drummer Pete Thomas, loose-limbed bass player and spot-on backing vocalist Davey Faragher and Costello in some career-best form on guitar.
Mind you, one of the evening's highlights didn't feature the band (or much country soul) as Costello took an old-time radio-style stroll through the comi-tragic tale of "Jimmie Standing In the Rain" before the winning voices of support act Secret Sisters played chorus line to his neo-Bing Crosby in "A Slow Drag With Josephine."
Having cleared a space with these delicacies, though, Costello and the Imposters went out the way they came in, bustling through a final triumvirate of "National Ransom," "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love And Understanding" convincing us briefly that our lack of breath was excitement, not ageing.