Elvis Costello at the Apollo proved that he is a vital force in pop music. Over ninety minutes of songs of such intelligence and melody left a feeling of sadness that as Costello improves he can only sell less records.
Songs like "Kid About It" showed with typical honesty how Costello can lay bare his private life, while the now huge reserve of back numbers reveal how vividly he can explore his subjects' bedroom neuroses: the cruelty and jealously, the failure to communicate, the lack of love.
Costello now no longer seems the bitter brat he was. Intense self-portraits of humiliation like "Alison" seem hits out of time, this year's relaxed, confident and slightly podgy model sitting uneasily with the old Costello picture of the four-eyed geek with the twisted mind and the leg to match. The political sense was always razor-sharp, and songs like "Oliver's Army" are even more pertinent today than in the relative paradise of five years ago. "Pidgin English" in this mould, a political pop song, a direct attack on the way language is abused and dismantled by T.V. trivia and gutter press paranoia, resulting in moronic attitudes, the blunting of feeling, the incapacity to say "P.S. I love you." Costello is still railing against the forces trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel.
And that was just for starters. What followed was a careful balance of covers and originals, hits and misses, all played with passion and imagination by the Attractions, more Elvis's musical backbone than his backing band.
The quality of the songs, voyeuristic glimpses of how and why people love and hate as they do all containing the celebrated lyrical stings in the tales, improved as the show neared a stunning climax in the last two encores, which included the new and soon-to-be-famous "Shipbuilding."
An evening of sheer class. Who would have the cheek to dispute the fact that Costello's the reigning champion of pop music?