He’s been around since 1977 and with over thirty albums under his belt, an artist like Elvis Costello can get away with a gig based around the concept of a “Spectacular spinning songbook”, in which audience members get to spin a big wheel and determine the set list. The stage is set with a go go dancers’ cage on one the left, the spinning songbook on the right, the band in the middle and a lounge area with a TV displaying static where the guest brought up onto the stage can sit while the band play the selected song. The songbook itself is labelled with forty songs and a “joker” option which allows any song to be chosen if this is selected. A glamorous assistant forges her way into the audience and selects people to come on stage one or two at a time to have a go on the wheel.
Costello is backed by his band The Imposters, consisting of long time cohorts drummer Pete Thomas (originally from Brighton) and Steve Nieve, one of my favourite keybaord players. Bass duties are taken up by Davey Faragher, a Californian session musician who has played with Cosello for over ten years. Costello is clearly enjoying himself, switching between acoustic and electric guitar, chatting to the audience and playing the part of music hall MC as he gets people onto the stage to spin the wheel. A woman dances in the cage for some of the songs or the audience member who has spun the wheel may decide they want to shake their thing.
The first spin of the wheel gives us the Robert Wyatt classic “Shipbuilding”, and for the next two hours and fifty minutes it’s a non stop run down of some of the great songs in Costello’s back catalogue. Whether performing one of his own songs or a cover version, his distinct vocal style makes every song uniquely his. Early on in the show we hear “Lace Sleeves”, “Olivers Army”, “She” by Charles Aznavour, “Talking in the dark” and “All this useless beauty”. He then brings Chris Difford from Squeeze onto the stage to bang a hammer onto one of those “test your strength” machines then plays a great version of Difford’s song “Tempted”. They then immediately launch into “Cool for cats” with Difford on vocals, and it’s good to hear this classic song again.
After that, Costello performs “Watching the detectives” and a cover version of Johnny Cash’s “Cry, cry, cry”, which he precedes with an anecdote about how he met Cash in the late Seventies and was given a gift only to find out that it was the first thing that Cash had ever given to June Carter Cash when they were dating.
The tunes keep coming, so we also get “I can’t stand up for falling down”, “High Fidelity”, “Lipstick Vogue”, “Clubland” and “I want you” before the all finally leaving the stage after about two and a half hours. They all come back on for the encore, so for another twenty minutes we’re treated to “A slow drag with Josephine”, “Alison”, “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding” (penned by Nick Lowe), an uptempo cover version of The Who’s “Substitute”, and then finally “Pump it up”.
A great set from a great musician, a tight band, good concept and a top night out.