"We love you Elvis," one fan yelled as Elvis Costello kicked off his solo Australian tour in Fremantle on Thursday evening.
"We love you too," the 55-year-old punk turned troubadour replied.
We? The bespectacled rocker — who coupled his trademark specs with a nifty camel Stetson — wasn't referring to the royal We, rather his big collection of guitars that formed a wide semi-circle in the background during his one-man show.
What's the collective noun for guitars? A Clapton? A Van Halen? A Les Paul of axes?
Anyway, Costello and his Hendrix of guitars turned on a brilliant performance that reached back to his 1977 debut My Aim is True, kicking off with "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and ending the main set with a nostalgic singalong to "Alison."
On the way, he seamlessly dropped in tracks off his latest album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, recorded in Nashville with producer T Bone Burnett, and even played a number from his unfinished Hans Christian Andersen musical.
Many of the 1600 fans gasped as Costello unveiled a new track, "Condemned Man," about an unrepentant character facing execution with a "cold-hearted cackle." The jet-black humour of this song was perfect for the arts centre stage next to the old asylum; "I hear the executioner has got a brand new kink / He's giving me cyanide to breathe and strychnine to drink." With its guillotine-sharp lyrics, "Condemned Man" got a huge reception, almost on par with his big hits.
Costello was in a generous mood all evening; playing a genius version of Bruce Springsteen's "Brilliant Disguise," romping through 1989 hit "Veronica" and delivering the Ron Sexsmith version of his 1983 fave "Everyday I Write the Book." He flicked through lyrics on a music stand when a fan shouted for "Indoor Fireworks" — Costello dutifully delivered.
While we swooned to "Good Year for the Roses," we also went with Elvis on a frenetic rattle through "Bedlam" off 2004's The Delivery Man. In many of the songs, Costello used the space around the microphone to modulate his idiosyncratic voice.
"Watching the Detectives" saw him use a series of pedals to create loops out of riffs torn out of a gold electric guitar he used for just that 1977 reggae-rhythmed classic, while he dipped back to one of his earliest compositions, the rocking "Radio Sweetheart."
After a relatively straightforward rendition of "Alison," Costello quietly wandered off stage, leaving roadies to set up some more speakers and the chair from which he played the excellent "Sulphur to Sugarcane," co-written with Burnett on the new album. "All or Nothing at All," a jazz-era song famously covered by his wife, Diana Krall, followed before "Drum & Bone" off last year's Imposters album, Momofuku, and Charles Aznavour's "She" left us hollering for one more — "Just one more" — song.
Costello chose to leave us with "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" — a song penned by his old mate Nick Lowe that has become one of his signatures — and we chose to leave him with a standing ovation as he took a long, deep bow. Despite roaming far and wide across his and other's catalogues, Elvis proved that 32 years after the first album, his aim remains true.