It’s nice to see Elvis Costello having fun on stage. His current tour is less about Costello’s jazz-country-ragtime leanings of the past two decades and more about the rock. And the spectacle. The good stuff.
Bringing back his Spectacular Spinning Songbook that debuted some 25 years ago, Costello and his Intruders mixed rock show with game show into a long and unpredictable good time. Beardless, looking svelte and way too goddamn charming for a rock and roller, Costello wore many hats (literally two)—that of E.C. himself, and that of his alter ego Napoleon Dynamite, who directed the show with the help of a giant multi-colored wheel that would determine our fates.
But before the Spectacular Spinning Songbook got a workout, the audience did with an opening barrage of classics, including “Pump It Up,” “Uncomplicated” and “Radio Radio.” And while his vocals slipped behind those songs’ snappy tempos, it turns out Costello was just getting warmed up. The Intruders—keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher (also a founding member of the band Cracker)—are a crack rock unit, especially Thomas, whose drumming is still crisp and spot-on. And they carried on for almost three hours, as audience members came and went from the stage, spinning a giant wheel filled with song-titles and lyrical themes, taking a seat in the “Society Lounge” and occasionally dancing friskily in the go-go cage situated stage right.
Needless to say, there was plenty of eye-candy. And the anticipation of not knowing which song would come next (along with the breaks in the action that came with it) kept the long set from dragging. Also helping matters was the cross-section of expected hits (“Alison,” “Oliver’s Army,” “Watching the Detectives”) that were met with more obscure ones (“Clowntime Is Over,” “Just a Memory”) and the usual well-chosen covers. Costello even got a few of his more eclectic, I-married-a jazz pianist, easy-listeners in there, including “A Slow Drag With Josephine,”—which are no match for his venomous oldies, even as he performs them at the age of 57.
A few things I took away from the evening (aside from the obvious): Costello is one of the few performers that can get away with blending the highbrow and the lowbrow. He also gave the audience an impressive display of his guitar abilities, from tasteful picking to extended noise explosions. For me, the nastier, noisier numbers will always win out in the end. The cost of Costello’s suits has probably quadrupled since he’s written most of these songs, but it’s still that knock-kneed 20-something underneath them. And while I was beyond happy to hear those old songs in close to their original form, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that Costello didn’t get around to playing the soft and sappy “Indoor Fireworks.” I’m sure I wouldn’t have been the only one to let the smoke get in their eyes.
Photo courtesy of elviscostello.com
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