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

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before