You write the reviews: Elvis Costello, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

This concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was one of only two shows that Elvis Costello will perform in the UK this year. He has been spending most of his time recently recording the TV series Spectacle: Elvis Costello with... and scoring the Twyla Thorpe ballet Nightspot for the Miami City Ballet. His latest "rock" album, Momofuku, meanwhile, has received some the best reviews of his career.

This has to have been one of the most enjoyable concerts I've seen Costello perform. It was a splendid mix of the entertaining and the challenging, and it also served to show an artist in splendid voice and confident in his intentions to explore its limitations. That some of those efforts didn't work made the majority that did the more thrilling.

None of the pieces were entirely new to me. I have listened to recordings of the Il Sogno shows he has been doing for the past few years, and it would be up to this orchestra to make them sound fresh to me. This they did, in spades. "Green Shirt" was a highlight, the strings being particularly vibrant. "Watching the Detectives" was similarly refreshed, just about improving on the show I saw him perform with the Metropole Orkest in Holland in 2006. If anything, the relative lack of rehearsal served to give an edge to the proceedings, as a very concentrated effort was required by all concerned.

The conceit behind including material from the The Secret Songs, an opera about Hans Christen Andersen that Costello wrote in 2005, was audacious in the extreme. The fact that it has drawn some hostile reactions from fans shows that Costello anticipated and probably delighted in getting that response. I was lucky enough to see, in Copenhagen in 2005, the workshop versions of these songs, so it was a delight to hear them finally getting the full orchestral treatment. "How Deep Is the Red" and "She Handed Me a Mirror" were achingly beautiful. "He Has Forgotten Me Completely", however, was less successful.

The sold-out Philharmonic Hall was in raptures by the end of the night, giving Costello numerous standing ovations. He bantered with the audience, referring to part of his childhood spent by the Mersey. He expressed a hope that Liverpool's year as the European Capital of Culture would be of benefit but didn't argue with a doubting audience member.

In short, this was a show by an artist at the top of his form. It bodes well for anything else he should choose to approach with such vigour in the future.

John Foyle, retailer, Dublin

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