Elvis Costello, Royal Festival Hall, London

Reviewed,Ben Walsh
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:25

"I've been wading through all this unbelievable junk/ And wondering if I should have given the world to the monkeys," he spits out with relish on "God's Comic" in this blistering solo set. It's about time we reclaimed our very own Elvis, and thanks to Richard Thompson's Meltdown we get a rare sighting (he now lives in New York with his wife, Diana Krall) of this British new-wave whiz.

The 55-year-old Costello bounces, Tigger-like, on to the stage in a sleek dark-grey suit. Glaring out from his bulky black specs he looks like a blend of Woody Allen and Phil Silvers, and his patter between songs is droll and engaging – he apologises for his American accent, he tells us that his dad is in the audience and jokes about making "two whistling solos in one show". But his singing persona is as raw and belligerent as ever, his head jerks violently away from the mic to emphasise an acerbic lyric, his leg occasionally kicks out and when he attacks his guitar his lips are defiantly downcast, like a child whose lollipop has plummeted down a ravine.

In his generous set – I counted 25 songs and it runs 25 minutes over – the highlights include an exquisite, stripped-down "Good Year for the Roses", sung like it belongs in a David Lynch/Wim Wenders film, a suitably vicious ("though it nearly took a miracle to get you to stay/ It only took my little fingers to blow you away") "Watching the Detectives" and the gorgeous lament "Alison". But the truly bravura flourish is when he shuns his mic and sits on the edge of the stage to croon the blues-tinged "Slow Drag with Josephine". What a wonderful show-off Declan MacManus (his given name) still is.

In the past few years Costello has toured with Dylan, played with Springsteen and appeared on 30 Rock. All in the States. The UK doesn't get to see enough of this smart, literate, opinionated lyricist and sensational performer. For the finale, Richard Thompson joins him for his finest song, the sad, enraged "Shipbuilding". The rousing standing ovation that follows is wholly justified.

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