We’re two songs in and Elvis Costello is singing about “Government burglars.” That Blame It On Cain – a song from ‘My Aim Is True’, his thirty-year-old debut record – is now drenched in fiddle, accordion and lap steel guitar; is the only real difference to when he first performed the song at Eric’s back in the day.

And the fact that, just like a fine wine, Costello gets better with age.

Do me a favour: the next time someone tells you rock ‘n roll is a young person’s game, give ’em a smack. It’s not – and nights like these at the Philharmonic Hall are missed at your peril.

They’re moments in time. Reasons to believe. To witness such grace, defiance, vitality and vigour at close quarters on Hope Street is a true delight. And one we should never take for granted.

Our greatest artists need to be cherished. It’s something England has never quite got right – and one of the main reasons that the former Declan McManus now resides in Canada and very rarely visits these shores.

Upon his last visit to Liverpool (for a memorable gig at the Phil, with the RLPO, back in 2008), the Bard of Birkenhead took the opportunity to elude to the fact that he was scheduled for a much bigger role in our Capital Of Culture year’s musical programme, but crass mismanagement may have scuppered the plans.

It was a similar story a year earlier when, across the pond to promote his latest collaboration with Allen Touissaint, a local radio station asked the New Orleans legend to wait outside of the studio while Costello was interviewed. Elvis hit the roof and the station acquiesced.

It prompted Costello to keep the UK off his touring schedule for a while – with only Liverpool and London (both in England, but not of it these days) making the grade. Thank God. Because Liverpool lives for concerts like this.

With not an Attraction or an Imposter in sight, Costello held the sold-out crowd’s attention all night.

New songs, old songs and covers (who predicted the Stones’, Keef-led Happy being a big highlight?) were all delivered with a battering-ram like quality from the six-strong Sugarcanes – the group who provide the righteous Americana on his latest record; ‘Secret, Profane and Sugarcane’.

But this was no promotional trip. The classics were reworked too: Brilliant Mistake, Alison, New Amsterdam (with a coda of You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away waltzing the tune from New York to Liverpool and back) and (The Angels Wanna’ Wear My) Red Shoes were all rapturously received by the crowd, revelling in the singer’s obvious delight at how great his voice was sounding in this musical old venue.

It was that kind of gig.

The big lights got an airing too, with Shipbuilding and a slowed-down (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding still capturing the spirit of the times, all these years after they were written. Song of the night honours went to a heart-stopping recreation of Everyday I Write The Book, though – the MTV hit from 1983, delivered as a tear-stained lament, Ron Sexsmith-style. Beautiful.

Complaints? I’m trying. A misfiring Mystery Dance reminded us all that we want him back with The Imposters and his Fender Jazz shortly – but that’s our problem, not his.

Apart from that minor quibble, this was another sold-out concert that the Phil got right and the artist delivered upon.

Same time next year?

Photography: David Munn

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