His albums have become increasingly diverse and far between, and his concerts supporting them tend to attract only the devoted few. A man's gotta pay the bills and support his family, but when you're Elvis Costello, you will also go out of your way to keep from being accused of living off the past, even in the slightest.
Despite all the people he's worked with over the years, the most consistent has been the band now known as the Imposters. For the past ten years (as well as a few combinations in the decades before that) they've provided the reliable backbeat for his rock 'n roll tendencies, and can just as capably follow his dynamics down to a whisper. Their ability to think on their feet means they can handle pretty much whatever's thrown at them, even when decided by a gigantic roulette wheel festooned with forty different song titles and wild cards.
The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook is a document of the highlights of just two shows from their 2011 Revolver tour, which revived that legendary wheel of fortune 25 years after it was first rolled out. The wide variety of songs and possibilities played throughout the tour couldn't possibly be contained on a single CD; the companion DVD presents a single concert with all the visuals necessary to convey the moment. For the most part, the edits are seamless; only the transition from "Lipstick Vogue" to "Man Out Of Time" is obvious.
While it is something of an "oldies" show, he's careful to stack the crowd-pleasing rave-ups at either end of the set, with plenty of space in the middle to handle the spins of the wheel, any oddball requests and some otherwise little-heard surprises. That's how we get some incredible renditions of Nick Lowe's "Heart Of The City" and the Stones' "Out Of Time." Special guests The Bangles take the lead and harmonies on "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)." "National Ransom" is translated from its Sugarcanes incarnation into a rousing rock tune. "All Grown Up," originally recorded without any Attractions or Imposters, gets a lovely voice and piano treatment, courtesy of Steve Nieve. And the whole band shines on extended workouts of "Watching The Detectives," "I Want You," "Everyday I Write The Book" and "Peace, Love And Understanding."
The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook was first made available as a pricey collectors' edition denounced by the man himself, so its appearance as a standard-priced CD (as well as DVD and reasonable CD/DVD combo) gives the 99% a chance to experience it. Granted, it's only one snapshot; only those who follow Elvis with the dedication of Deadheads — and those people do exist — could possibly get the whole picture. For the rest of us, this will do