The seemingly evergreen Elvis Costello bounds on-stage, slightly lurched forward and faux-startled as if he just wandered into the guard’s spotlight during a prison break. His six guitars lined up behind him like willing accomplices, each one awaiting their chance to impress the leader. Tonight Declan McManus takes his solo show “home” and song after song reinforces the oft held – and justified – notions of legend status he acquired over his 35 year career.
Having altered his considerable set list on each night of the tour so far, Costello has the deftness to read the crowd and amend his set at will. He literally stands there, pointing, gauging, anticipating the crowd’s reactions and plucks songs from his repertoire accordingly. ‘45’, ‘Either Side of the Same Town’ and ‘Veronica’ are played to a somewhat muted crowd, polite, middle-aged applause after each. Only when ‘Ascension Day’ is played do the crowd really come to life and the requests come thick and fast. Each shout is met with a smile or a nod from Costello but this is par for the course for him; meeting a late volley of requests with a gentle riposte; “Yeah, those songs are good too”.
For the most part, his guitar playing is exemplary. He struts back and forth, easily mastering what appear to be every chord and derivative in the music universe. Vocally he is as good as he has been in years and with each wide and restrained vowel there is a little dry croak which suits his delivery perfectly. ‘She’ is playfully introduced by it’s supposed original lyrics “dragged into the desert and plucked for all eternity by the vultures of fate” while ‘Ghost Train’ and ‘Watching the Detectives’ bring the first part of the set to a close.
When he returns, as he will do again before bringing the night to a close, he chit chats and entertains the crowd’s eager interaction. Earlier complaints from one dismembered voice about the sound quality have abated and now it’s all about appreciation. Again, he stands there for slightly more than a second before visibly having a ‘right, I know what to do’ moment of determination, queue ‘Oliver’s Army’. This, clearly, is based on crowd reactions and is a testament not just to his impressive songbook, but to his ability to adapt. That’s not to say that anything tanked, more a reminder that musicians of Costello’s calibre have in their armoury something special. Leonard Cohen has it, Springsteen has it, McCartney has it and Elvis Costello has it. A lifetime of performing distilled into perfect moments. ‘Jimmy Standing in the Rain’ has all the poignancy you would expect from a man singing about his grandfather and ‘Allison’ and ‘(What’s so Funny ‘bout) Peace, Love and Understanding bring a remarkable night to a close. “I have 400 songs about love and deceit”, he tells us, and it’s unlikely that anybody in the Bord Gais Theatre tonight would mind hearing each and every one of them.