Songster still opinionated

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Elvis Costello and The Imposters, Brighton Centre May 16

A JOYOUS hour into a glorious evening you begin to ask yourself: “do these songs sound so great because the band has such a incredible understanding? Or are they all just amazing songs?”

A few days later, and a few beers lighter, you think it’s perhaps a bit of both, three quarters of the chaps on stage have played together for 35 years so it’s no surprise they make such a great noise, and Declan McManus is one of the best British singer-songwriters of the 20th century.

The Spectacular Spinning Songbook featured a huge vaudeville-style wheel of songs, spun by adoring acolytes (plucked from the crowd). It was choc-full of Costello, hits, much-loved album tracks and mysterious themes for the hugely charismatic performer to elaborate on.

The fifty-something Costello has calmed down a lot in recent years and, unsurprisingly, is unrecognisable from the snarling late 70s model.

But although the bile has all been spewed from the once angry young man, the passion and intensity is still there and he tore through a mammoth three-hour set.

He began amiably enough, if a little croakily in places, and was full of warmth and charm as he gave us superb run-throughs of Shipbuilding, Less than Zero and Oliver’s Army.

The man was joined on-stage by Squeeze songwriter (and Hove resident) Chris Difford, for an immaculate cover of Tempted, and, (what else?), Cool for Cats, a song so screamingly grounded in the seventies it even namechecks the Sweeney, who incidentally probably would have approved of impressively “energetic” go-go dancer in a glittery mini-dress and knee-high red leather boots giving it plenty on the same stage.

As the gig progressed he showed that the famously politically-rumbunctious Costello proved he still has an opinion or four up his sleeve.

The second half of proceedings were an infinitely more fiery affair. Blood-red lighting greeted the entrance of one Costello’s most fearsome tunes, the mighty I Want You. Rarely has the argument for sexual obsession sounded so persuasive and definitely never sounded as good.

He then unleashed a barnstorming attack of frenetic old favourites including I Can’t Stand Up from Falling Down, High-Fidelity, Clubland, and a dizzying Lipstick Vogue.

The Beloved Entertainer then played a song which he told us he’d said he’d never play again - Tramp the Dirt Down, a beautifully- arranged ball of hate which was written at the fag end of Thatcher’s Britain.

Before the final satisfying blast of Peace Love and Understanding and a swaggering muscular swipe at The Who’s Substitute, he found time for one last broadside - Piers Morgan. He said Morgan had recently told him that after a gig in Brighton he’d once autographed the young Piers’ head. Elvis concluded: “If I knew then what I know now, I’d have dug a little deeper.”

You tell ‘em Elvis.

Steve Holloway