Royal Albert Hall, London

Simon Price on pop: Elvis Costello's army bares its soul once more

5.00

The old man of New Wave leaves his set list to luck these days, and the wheel of fate turns up some gems

As a stand-up comedian, Elvis Costello makes an excellent singer-songwriter. Minutes into the show, Costello replaces his trilby with a topper, brandishes a silver-capped cane and adopts a persona somewhere between Bruce Forsyth on The Generation Game and a circus ringmaster, complete with corny American accent. A natural comic he ain't. But you warm to him for trying.

The set-up of the 13 Revolvers tour is familiar. On a set that's half funfair sideshow and half Sixties supper-club, the titles of approximately 40 Costello songs are painted on a wheel of fortune, spun by audience members, to ensure that every show is different. It also allows for unscripted chortles, like the wisecrack from a superfan called Ant, stood next to his hero: "It's the Ant & Dec Show …."

As a rapid-fire format for Costello and his Imposters – bassist Davey Faragher plus Attractions stalwarts Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve (who absconds in the encores to play the Hall's massive organ) – to showcase his back-catalogue, it's fine. And it is mostly back-cat: Costello's upcoming album with The Roots can wait.

It opens with his cover of Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down". It's followed by "High Fidelity" whose Supremes-referencing first words are "Some things you never get used to". Which establishes Costello's credentials as a soul fan, if not quite a soul man. Regardless of the strength of his voice, which he demonstrates unamplified off-mic, its tone is too adenoidal for that.

There comes a day in everyone's life where they're grown-up enough to get Elvis Costello, and I passed it some time ago. At 13, his pedal steel-drenched cover of George Jones's "Good Year For The Roses" was insufferably schmaltzy, but now it's almost painfully close to the bone. Funny, that.

"Oliver's Army", though, is the big one. When you're a child, it's just a jolly romping pop melody. Then you figure out it's one of the most chilling political pop songs of all time. Its power is the sound of measured anger, articulated with restraint. Nowadays, sneaking a song about The Troubles, complete with the provocatively loaded phrase "white nigger" to No 2 in the charts, seems impossibly audacious. Performed half-quiet half-loud, it's requested tonight by a woman whose father is dying of cancer. Costello agrees immediately.

It's not the only moving moment: it's touching to hear the entire Albert Hall singing "Alison, I know this world is killing you …" Nor is it the only late Seventies smash. It's commonplace to credit The Clash with pioneering the rock-reggae cross-over, but nearly all the old punks had a try, not least Costello, whose "Watching The Detectives" and "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" are immaculate exercises in paranoiac reggae-noir.

"Some people won't like this …", he apologises before a track which was namechecked almost as often as "Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead" this April. "But as long as there are still people about who believe the things she believed, and are doing the things she did, we can keep singing this song". The song is "Tramp The Dirt Down". And it's not even the night's most powerful anti-Thatcher song. That would be the haunting, Falklands-inspired "Shipbuilding", which recently merited its own Radio 4 documentary.

An even more potent attack on Conservative values, "Pills And Soap", didn't make the wheel. And another personal favourite, "Every Day I Write The Book", refused to get picked. But you can't have everything. In the words of Steven Wright – unlike Costello, a proper comedian – where would you put it?

The nomenclature of modern musical microgenres is an inexact science. Toro Y Moi (Concorde 2, Brighton ***) – the stage name of South Carolina artist-producer Chazwick Bradley Bundick – is termed a "chillwave" act, but as he and his band delve into their three albums to date, you don't need to be schooled in musical history to have other styles springing to mind. Mainly, "jazz-funk".

For all the 21st century beats, his mellifluous suspended and diminished chords recall Gregg Diamond and Azymuth as much as any contemporary act. The LED-mimicking light show adds to the impression that you're at home, grooving to Bundick's intelligent, tasteful sounds on your hi-fi. Which might, frankly, be a better way to spend your time.

Critic's Choice

Meltdown, this year curated by Yoko Ono, begins its nine-day run at the Southbank Centre in London with Yoko's own Plastic Ono Band (Fri), Siouxsie Sioux (Sat), and Peaches presenting Ono's performance art show Cut Piece (Sun 16). Meanwhile, John Lydon's post-punk legends Public Image Ltd play the Academy, Oxford; and the Academy, Leicester (Mon).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links