Elvis Costello is a great songwriter, able to mine a quite narrow range of his 32-year career in this show without coming close to repetition or boredom.
This was even with a husky throat which seems our permanent curse as Australian shows usually are on the end of world tours or heavy periods of work.
He began with the country rock "The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes," ended with the tortured torch song "I Want You," threw some 19th-century shapes in "She Was No Good" and some Everly Brothers moves in "Five Small Words" and fitted in Hans Christian Andersen and very Sydney-appropriate dodgy politicians in between.
In his Gary Cooper cowboy hat and newly slimmed form he's also a great entertainer — "God's Comic," even — with his increasingly circuitous yarns, his simultaneously celebratory and parodic stage gestures and two-hour shows packed with material which happily includes covers of Bruce Springsteen (an emotionally tough "Brilliant Disguise") and Altman/Lawrence (Sinatra's first hit, "All Or Nothing At All," done half jazzy blues/half Brazilian) as well as Van Morrison interpolations.
Elvis Costello is not, however, a great guitarist — and this begins to matter when he plays a solo tour. He's a good rhythm player, an enthusiastic contributor in a band and when let loose on electric guitar with effects and feedback can ratchet up the atmosphere, as he did with "Watching the Detectives" and "I Want You," (although each time he did overstay). But he's not a good enough hand on acoustic to consistently provide a vocal counterpoint and illuminate these often complex songs, particularly when there is little variety in tone in those guitars. To be fair, he certainly wasn't helped by a sound engineer who rendered the acoustics hollow and thin. But in the absence of an instrumental offsider the show would only be enhanced by having Costello throw in some low-key piano on, say, songs from the neglected North album, or just bashing out a little more on electric. Such an arrangement would have lifted this show from good to something like great.