You have to hand it to Elvis Costello! With a vast body of consistently high-quality work stretching back 35 years, he has solved the problem of how to present it, without resorting to the usual tired mix of greatest-hits-and-plugging-the-new-album scenario. The Spectacular Spinning Songbook — which he has revived from the mid 1980s — is a game of chance in which everybody wins. The idea is simple: song titles are written in garish colours on a giant wheel of fortune and audience members are invited (or in some cases, press-ganged) into spinning it.
That's the theory — and on the night, with a bevy of leggy, "lovely girls" on hand and a stage-set that is part cheesy lounge, part Vegas, but more workman's club on bingo night, he delivered a set that pleased die-hards and casual fans alike.
Dressed in a check suit and bowler hat, he looked like a song-and-dance man from a 1930s music hall variety show, but when he donned the Fender Jazzmaster for the likes of "Radio, Radio," "Hi-Fidelity," "Pump It Up" and "I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea," he sounded just as ferocious as the angry young man who was once described as "looking like Buddy Holly after drinking a can of STP."
Of course, rules are made to be broken and Elvis did just that more than once tonight, as when a girl "spinner" said she really wanted the wheel to stop at "Good Year For The Roses." She was out of luck but he did it anyway, on the basis that "you can't turn down a lady's request, can you?" When the wheel stops at "Happy," he plays several from the seminal Get Happy album, including, "I Can't Stand Up Falling Down," while "Joanna" of course wasn't an EC song but cockney rhyming-slang for "piano" — a cue for his long-time sidekick, the great Steve Nieve, to pick a tune or two. He chose a pair of gems in "I Still Have That Other Girl" from Costello's overlooked collaboration with Burt Bacharach, and the Charles Aznavour hit "She" from the Notting Hill soundtrack.
Other highlights on this hugely entertaining and at times very funny evening, included the McCartney collaboration "Veronica," a soulful "Everyday I Write The Book" and the evergreen "Alison." He ended proceedings with his incendiary version of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding." But Elvis hadn't quite left the building and with the stage drenched in blood red lights, he finally finished up with an extended "I Want You," which was as intense and powerful as ever.
This Wheel was certainly on fire tonight!