Grand Rapids Press, June 28, 2011

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Elvis Costello unexpectedly unveils 'Spinning Songbook' at Meijer Gardens for rousing show

John Sinkevics

Elvis Costello & the Imposters on Monday helped make sure that much is right with the world after all.

On a day when storms swirled and rain fell across West Michigan, the clouds cleared and the sun reared its glowing head just minutes before Costello and band strode to the stage at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

More important to the evening's revelry: The Spectacular Spinning Songbook was in the house after all.

Originally slated to skip the outdoor amphitheater due to technical and logistical reasons, crews decided early in the day at Costello's behest that the stage could accommodate the giant spinning wheel that he's used for much of the tour to give fans a chance to pick songs for his set list in roulette fashion – along with a go-go dancing booth and mini-bar. (I had bemoaned the spinning wheel's planned absence in a Sunday column, so I was thrilled to see it on stage Monday.)

And after a delicious five-song opening flurry of rock classics, including "Mystery Dance" from his 1977 debut album and the edgy "Radio Radio" from 1978's This Year's Model, Costello donned a top hat and turned into a gleeful carnival barker, picking fans from the audience to spin the wheel to help select tunes for the band to play after interviewing them on stage.

As part of the game, the chosen fans would then get seated at the mini-bar to enjoy slower songs or hop into the go-go booth to dance to uptempo numbers, often coached by a go-go dancer.

Gimmick though it may be, the brilliant concept entranced the audience and gave the show a joyful vibe from the get-go, with fans waiting to see what songs from Costello's 30-plus albums would get picked, while coaxing the wheel to stop at favorite titles.

Long accustomed to the spontaneity of it all, Costello's veteran band – Steve Nieve on keyboards, Pete Thomas on drums and Davey Faragher on bass – clicked on everything the wondrous wheel selected: "Accidents Will Happen," "High Fidelity," "Oliver's Army."

Unfortunately, about 55 minutes into the show, Nieve left the stage after feeling ill, came back to play briefly, then never returned for the rest of the night. Costello announced that Nieve, 53, was "not feeling too good" and was taking a break.

His website,, reported this morning that Nieve — an original member of Costello’s band The Attractions, which was formed in 1977 — experienced a severe muscle spasm during the show but now "is completely well."

Although the show definitely missed Nieve's brilliant keyboard accents, the trio careened on with aplomb, even tackling iconic rockers such as "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" and "Pump It Up" with veteran confidence and verve, getting an eye-candy assist from their go-go dancers .

One of them had Grand Rapids ties: The crew called in a former Rampage Dance Team member on Monday afternoon to fill in for the band's regular dancer who'd been given the week off because the spinning wheel originally wasn't going to be used.

Some might have recognized the brunette in the sparkling red mini-dress and go-go boots as Keri Larsen Kujala, of Rockford, who spent seven seasons with the Rage Dance Team performing at Grand Rapids Rampage arena football games.

An events coordinator for Saint Mary's Health Care, instructor at the Rockford School of Dance and assistant dance team coach at Rockford High School, Kujala reported at 5 p.m., her outfit and go-go boots in tow.

(Costello personally gave her directions for the show; she also had dinner with the band and crew and had a photo taken with the singer on the tour bus afterward.)

At 56, Costello clearly is no longer the angry young man he sometimes appeared to be in the late '70s when he burst onto the scene with his Buddy Holly glasses and red shoes.

Nowadays, he's more of a consummate musician, singer and entertainer than he ever was, happy to explore his entire canon of musical works for an eager audience and clearly relishing playing his role as a game-show host.

Consequently, Monday's sold-out concert at Meijer Gardens in front of 1,900 or so fans may have qualified as the amphitheater's most delightful show in its nine-year history, with an unpredictable, who-can-guess-what's-coming-next sort of vibe – part traveling medicine show, part circus game, part lounge act.

Without Nieve, Costello even decided to "improvise a little different show" about halfway through, playing a half-dozen songs alone on guitar, including stellar, audience-involving renditions of "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and "Everyday I Write the Book."

And when Faragher and Thomas returned, the trio knocked out captivating, rhythmically powerful versions of "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," "Watching the Detectives" (with Costello playing guitar, harmonica and keyboards) and "Alison" to the delight of dancing fans.

Just one night before, U2 had energized an audience of more than 65,000 at East Lansing's Spartan Stadium with a precise, ultra-programmed, high-tech rock spectacle of enormous proportions.

But I'd argue that Costello's fluid, quirky, seat-of-the-pants affair on Monday was every bit as entertaining.

Elvis Costello & the Imposters: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Highlight No. 1: The Spectacular Singing Songbook, a marvelous fan-interaction device that single-handedly created intrigue and established a rollicking, good mood from the outset.

Highlight No. 2: Costello's renditions of older gems ""Radio Radio," "Pump It Up" and a hyper-extended "Watching the Detectives" were delectable.

Low point: Keyboard player Steve Nieve fell ill midway through the show and never returned, though the band sauntered on gallantly.

Time on stage: 2 hours and 16 minutes


The Grand Rapids Press, June 28, 2011

John Sinkevics reviews Elvis Costello and the Imposters, Monday, June 27, 2011, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI.


2011-06-27 Grand Rapids 01 ab.jpg
Photo by Adam Bird.


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