He may make albums with opera singers, string quartets and easy-listening
gurus but deep down there’s a part of Elvis which is still the intense and difficult punk. The intense
Elvis was in evidence at Hammersmith Apollo as he stalked the stage, clanging his electric guitar before raising it defiantly
like some kind of proud shield to the audience at the end of most songs. The difficult Elvis emerged a
couple of times as well – with some bizarre set listing which prevented this really good gig from being truly classic…
There were several brilliant moments though. Costello
and The Imposters began their set with Blue Chair and Uncomplicated – a double header from one of his best albums, Blood
& Chocolate. Other early-set highlights included Temptation (from Get Happy) and Sulky Girl (Brutal
Youth). With such a vast repertoire, it’s great that Elvis never merely plays a “greatests
hits with a few from the latest album” set but includes quite a few obscure classics for the fans as well.
The flipside of this if, of course, quite a few songs which only the most extreme completist will know…
Costello didn’t play many of the songs from his latest album
The Delivery Man till the second half of his mammoth two-and-a-half hour set. The highlight of these latest
offerings was a country-ish ballad where bassist Davey Farragher sung superb harmonies with Elvis – a part sung by Emmylou
Harris on the album. Farragher’s singing and playing were superb throughout the concert - he brought
real melody with his underused harmonies, most notably on Blame It On Cain.
The other two members of The Imposters were also in The Attractions
and have played with Elvis on-and-off for over 25 years. Steve Nieve showed madcap brilliance as usual, playing a variety
of keyboards including melodica and theremin. He partciularly shone on the extended outro to Suit Of Lights. Pete
Thomas was also excellent, a tight rather than spectacular drummer apart from an awful out of time cymbal which slightly spoilt
Shipbuilding for the muso in this listener.
Not usually big on between song banter, Elvis didn't say much though
he did sit on the edge of the stage to sing a brilliant Almost Blue. Another highlight was When I Was Cruel, the only song
featured from the recent album of the same name where Elvis showed how well he can really play the electric guitar.
All very atmospheric and different...till it was inexplicably segued mid-song into Watching The Detectives.
Other highlights of the gig which the list-obsessed part of me
wants to mention were blistering versions of Radio Radio and (What's So Funny Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding as well
as Kinder Murder from the Brutal Youth LP. The 30 and 40 something crowd mostly stayed in their seats till an ecstatic
Pump It Up...which Elvis followed with a ballad which hardly anyone recognised. Bizarre set listing moment no. 2...
Having said this though, moments of brilliance followed by moments
of averageness is what you expect from the Elvis Costello live experiece - he's that kind of artist. He closed with
I Want You followed by Scarlet Tide, his song from the brilliant film Cold Mountain and we all left happy with the highs
and not-so-highs of another excellent Costello gig.