Melbourne Herald Sun, October 12, 2009

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Herald Sun (Melbourne) 2009-10-12

Simon Plant 5 stars

Get this. For almost two hours, Elvis Costello stands on the stage of the grand old Palais and sings songs on guitar. That's it -- nothing else -- and he's brilliant.

Between the opening chords of Red Shoes and the thrumming idealism of the closer, Peace, Love and Understanding, Costello hammers out hits reaching back to the '70s as well as numbers from his new album Secret, Profane and Sugarcane. There are singalongs and stories, too. Some about the clubs he used to play with his dad, others about the perfomers in the days of riverboats and cotton plantations.

Costello looks as if he just wandered in from the Mississippi Delta -- grey suit, spotted tie, a Stetson shading those trademark specs -- and tells us: "It's good to be back beside the seaside."

Good to hear that voice again. He sounds vinegary in Veronica and frenetic in Bedlam. He coaxes tenderness out of Good Year For The Roses and traps high notes in Everyday I Write The Book.

Saddling up with different guitars, Costello's musicianship is just as impressive. In Condemned Man, a new song about death row, his playing has the jolt of an electric shock. Watching The Detectives is even more aggressive with nifty pedalwork weaving a soundscape that all but peels paint off the walls.

Seasoned performer that he is, Costello knows how to vary his colours. So before the evening's out we get a jazz gem (All Or Nothing At All), an Aznavour classic (She) and Sulphur To Sugarcane -- a picaresque journey through the saloons and sawdust of old-time America.

"My aim is true," Costello tells us in Alison. In his mid-50s, rock's great troubadour is still right on target.