Elvis Costello is one of the greatest singer-songwriters this nation has produced.
His career stretches back more than 40 years to a time when he was an angry young man of the English new wave and, by his own admission, his contemporaries were “The Jags and The Vapors”.
Costello’s deliberately nerdy image featured horn rimmed glasses and a suit and it’s a dress code that he still follows at the age of 63, even when a concert is taking place on a hot North-east night!
His latest tour precedes the anticipated release of new album but, for his gig at Newcastle City Hall, he dipped into his magical back catalogue time and time again.
It should be said time has taken its toll on his unmistakable voice, the range simply ain’t what it used to be. But that didn’t stop Costello putting on a memorable two hour show.
Backed by a band that included two thirds of the Attractions – drummer Pete Thomas and pianist Steve Nieve – the sound was predictably brilliant.
And the addition of outstanding backing singers Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee was the icing on the cake.
They offered a new dimension to many of the more familiar tracks and added femininity to Costello’s testosterone-fuelled lyrics.
With such a huge and varied songbook, it was always going to be a question of what he didn’t play rather than what he did. The good news for his fans in attendance is he pulled out most of his plum tracks.
And the pace was frantic at times, more in keeping with a sweaty punk club of the 1970s than the sober surroundings of the City Hall.
Mystery Dance and Clubland, a song Costello said he “stole from Sting” were performed with a ferocity that a teen garage band would struggle to match.
The same could be said of (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea which featured Thomas’s legendary drum fills.
But, if anything, the slow numbers worked best on the night.
Tears Before Bedtime from the 1978 album This Year’s Model was delivered magnificently and it was wonderful to hear the sinister Beyond Belief.
The main set ended with the 1986 tour de force I Want You from Blood and Chocolate.
Costello squeezed out every last drop of emotion from a song that had the audience transfixed.
After a brief break, Costello returned to the stage wearing a magnificent red hat and striped jacket to perform a ragged version of Alison.
That was followed by a gospel version of I Can’t Stand Up and, accompanied by Nieve on piano, Talking In The Dark.
Accidents Will Happen was also rearranged into a slow ballad and he then performed She, a Charles Aznavour song he admits his fans either love or hate, though his Newcastle attempt brought the house down. Costello was clearly enjoying himself and thanked the audience, sayiong: “It’s always a pleasure to play here.”
The full band then ripped through Oliver’s Army, with a big cheer greeting the infamous line ‘The boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the (big pause) Tyne’.
Shipbuilding, an anti-war song that could easily have been written with the North-east in mind, was simply spine-tingling and the night ended on a high with full-blooded runs through of (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love And Understanding? and Pump It Up."
Given the subsequent cancellation of other dates on the European Tour, it is interesting to note the comment that "time has taken its toll on his unmistakable voice". As it transpired, it was not time, but the surgery that had this effect, but no way the reviewer could have known this ahead of Elvis' announcement a few days later.