As a stage performer, Elvis Costello has always been a shaky proposition.
Despite his prowess as a writer and recording artist. he has often — perhaps always — lacked the stagecraft needed to present his choked and twisted songs about white knuckles and guilty parties with anything approaching his compositional skills.
Nothstanding these remarks, the concert this week. which must have annoyed some old fans for its lack of anger, had all the markings of a band struggling with its material, and finally coming to grips with it.
After a dodgy and predictable start, they set about a performance that eventually overwhelmed the audience, not with venom but with valour.
Partly because of the range of material covered (rock. soul, pop, country. reggae, you name it) and partly because of the quantity of songs (30 in all I think), the common feeling after the show was "value for money."
The best included a resounding "Hand In Hand," "The Beat." "Waiting For The End Of The World," "Alison," "Clubland," "Big Sister's Clothes" and a maniacal version of "Pump It Up."
These were, for the most part, fast or familiar numbers that had found a way out through Costello's convoluted arrangements and into the light.
"Watching The Detectives" fared badly (as it has always done), and so did a maudlin rendition of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," which is one of the best dance tunes they have recorded.
Costello's vocals were thankfully devoid of its usual nasal whinings. With Alison and two songs by Smokey Robinson, he sang with urgency and exuberance.
The glaring fault of the night was, one again, the volume and clarity of the sound system — particularly with the ballads.
The show was loud and distorted to the extent that much or the slower material such as the newish "I'm Your Toy" and "Almost Blue" was unsatisfactory.
The Attractions's sound, too, deserved better treatment from the sound system and the mixing desk.
It was a joyful occasion with Elvis at his friendly and benign best. And he gave as much to his singing and playing as he is capable of.
In the past he has tended to make nervous mince meat of his songs — many of which do not lend themselves to a grand thrash of interests. These days, a calm has commenced, and his shows are the better for it.