Beyond Belief

Pump it up!

Elvis Costello at 50. Who would have though it? Still, there he is, sporting a tie and a sharp suit, after all these years. Chubbier, balder and wearing glittering shoes to rival Dorothy’s over that rainbow, his growl is as fierce as ever. Behind him, the Impostors – basically the Attractions sans Bruce Thomas – keep a rock steady beat upon which the man himself’s words are flung full force into the void and driven home on jackhammer rhythms.

The audience is in fact comprised of all ages. Obviously, the greater part is pushing middle age themselves, but there is a great range, even down to those barely old enough to drink. It looks strange, and yet it’s like seeing myself ten years ago. Curious and reverent in equal measures, knowing we are about to see a legend. Of course, I’m too cool to let on, but inside I am giddy and excited and I don’t want to go to Chelsea. So much for aging gracefully.

Costello comes on stage to face a very enthusiastic crowd, and rips through nearly three hours of music, being called back three or four times. Having such a huge back catalogue means that your chances of hearing at least a few of your favourites is there. Still, it also means that you hear a lot more you’re not very familiar with. As befits a still-active artist, Costello is not content to simply run through a rehash of old hits and faves; he has a new album out and he’s touring the bastard! And boy, does he ever! His new stuff sounds good, almost as good as the old. The reason it’s harder to completely embrace it, I think, is that it hasn’t had time to grow on you. It’s also odd to think how times have changed. His new songs are hard-edged, angry and focused; they also sound as if they are cut from the same cloth of anger and spite that Costello had at his disposal thirty years ago. And yet, for all of this feeling of plus ca change, they sound nothing like what you hear on the radio these days. There are no angry or suspicious songs anymore – there is only unfocused angst, suburban dirges of irrelevant solipsism, the old sound and fury signifying fuck all. The feeling of attacking an identifiable enemy, be it the government or the old girlfriend, is gone. How can we not love him? He is the angry geek done good. Had he been born ten years later, this former programmer would probably be running Silicone Valley. What a loss that would have been.

The eloquence, the word games that may or may not mean anything (nobody sane has ever had the balls to claim they know what a Costello album is about), the focus and verve: all this makes it so abundantly clear that there is a mature person up on stage. I find it hard to believe that the Costello that started out (around the same time I was born), had – indeed could have – the warmth about his eyes the way this year’s model does. For better or worse, Costello has grown up; his craft has grown with him and maybe that’s another reason his material seems slightly paler in comparison: he knows there is more to be explored elsewhere . God knows, and I’m probably talking through my arse here, trying to justify my not buying his new albums. (Hey, I still don’t have all the classics) Costello has stayed vital. Relevant is a different matter, though; as mentioned above, Costello sounds like nothing on the radio and in this day and age, is he relevant? I’d wager to say yes; a song like Radio, Radio in the days of Fox news is sharper than ever. Oliver’s Army went to Iraq instead, the Goon Squad took over the white house and hey: what really is so funny about peace, love & understanding?

I suppose this is not a very good review of the concert itself, but what the hell: I was there, you were most likely not and that’s how it is. It was cold outside, it was hot inside and we all felt like we’d been bowled over. The faces of the crowd as we made our way to the exits were beatific, perhaps the wrong state to find oneself in after seeing Elvis Costello, but nevertheless: we saw God. And he was one of us.