Despite Elvis Costello’s wild claim in 1977 that he’s not angry, it’s the stamping and shouting that still drives his live shows, including tonight’s at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Amongst the audience’s anticipation of faithful versions of the punk-era classics, there’s a kind of reverence: anyone who checks their phone in the middle of Watching the Detectives, or, God forbid, Pump It Up will be, rightly, moaned at by their gig partner. Things are kicked off with a powerful version of Wonder Woman from Costello's 2006 collaborative album with Allan Toussaint, The River in Reverse.
The Imposters are brilliant: the two amazing backing singers raise the roof on their own, and Pills and Soap just wouldn’t be the same without Steve Nieve’s keyboard tinkling. When he plays two keyboards at right angles to each other, he channels an odd version of Rick Wakeman who you’d happily talk to at a party. Some of it almost falls prey to the ace musicianship, though – the mysterious, compelling crossways current of Beyond Belief gets drummed a bit too hard, and it’s not clear how many people really want to hear another slowed down, jazzy version of Oliver’s Army. Still, for all the musical showing off it’s the punky energy that powers the gig, although there’s more enjoyment than indulgence of Costello when he gets the piano out and plays Shot With His Own Gun and Adieu Paris.
Costello’s stage presence and appearance are powerful, too. He’s gone from looking like the kid at school who didn’t dare take any cool subjects to a hip college lecturer who gets his guitar out in class when things get quiet. It’s compelling if you’re into that sort of thing, and a reminder that everything his music is about is shot through with sex. Elvis the Pelvis lives. He’s funny, stepping nicely into the role of gap-toothed Scouser in cod stand-up bits between songs. There are several reminders throughout the gig of how ace his lyrics are. 'It’s the stupid details that my heart is breaking for / It’s the way your shoulders shake and what they’re shaking for' for instance, in a theatrical version of I Want You, does what certain Van Morrison couplets do: they are at once obscure and painfully clear.
Sadly, there’s still no good answer to the question 'What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?' particularly in these troubled times. The whole gig is a brilliant, satisfying 20th meets 21st century affair, younger and older fans enjoying the show and perhaps taking different things from it, though as the post-concert crowd spill out onto the street, there are more primitive fan renditions of the original version of Oliver’s Army than the one played tonight.