In Between The Tracks, June 5, 2013

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In Between The Tracks
  • 2013 June 5



Pump it up!

In Between The Tracks

Elvis Costello & The Imposters
Royal Albert Hall

Elvis Costello & The Imposters came back to London yesterday evening for the first of three shows at the Royal Albert Hall, as part of their 13 Revolvers tour. The legendary singer-songwriter performed a two-and-a-half-hour show that included many of his best-known hits such as "Alison" and "Watching The Detectives," as well as some lesser-known gems from his back catalogue.

I remember the first time I listened to Elvis Costello. I liked it but the more I listened to it the more I slowly came to grips with what bothered me: his voice. This may sound like sacrilege, but listen to the first sentence of "Accidents Will Happen" from 1979's Armed Forces and you might understand. Hear that? "Ooooh-ouuuh-iiiii just don't know where to begin." Well, I couldn't stand that kid-like voice. Eventually, I appreciated it as his young, sarcastic voice of irony, which was predominant in his early records. But yesterday's show wiped out any remaining reluctant feeling I might have had about it.

What. A. Voice. I could hardly believe my ears.

After the opening combo of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" by the end of which he already had the audience up on its feet and dancing, "High Fidelity," "Uncomplicated" and "Radio, Radio," it was time to spin that gigantic wheel stood on the left side of the stage.

Let me explain how the wheel works. Although it seems like rules somehow change from night to night, there are still some basics.

First, the colours: yellow, red, purple, and green. If the arrow indicates a song in yellow or red, only the song in question will be played. That means you could get anything from "Alison" to "God's Comic" and The Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing."

Then there is purple. These are not song titles but "jackpots." That means if the arrow stops on "Joanna," which was the case yesterday, you will get several songs with Costello accompanied only by Steve Nieve on piano. ("Joanna" is rhyming slang for "piano"). Yesterday we had "All Grown Up," "I Still Have That Other Girl" and "She." The jackpot "Time," however, would get the band to play songs like "Man Out Of Time," "Clowntime Is Over" and "Strict Time."

If you were to get the "I Can Sing A Rainbow" jackpot, then Costello would play songs with colours in the title, such as "Almost Blue," "Green Shirt," "Red Shoes" or even "Purple Rain." And then there is the ultimate reward, the Joker, which allows you to choose any song on the wheel. Simple, but genius.

Now you're up and ready, let's have a look at yesterday's show!

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, a fantabulous evening of music!," Costello says transformed in a magician with a hat and a cane.

The first woman to come on stage is from Manchester, which prompts him to reassure her: "it's alright, we'll be nice to you." "Come on, spin that wheel!," he shouts. The wheel spins and spins, and seems to stop, then hesitates, before indicating "Clubland," the 1981 song which saw Costello imitating The Police's signature guitar style.

The wheel is pretty nice to us tonight, as we are treated to "Bedlam," one of the great songs of his most recent repertoire, and "I Want You," one of the highlights of the night, which he sings beautifully and to which he adds a somewhat surprising guitar solo.

After playing "Oliver's Army," Costello goes through his romantic moment of the night, singing "All Grown Up," "I Still Have That Other Girl" from his collaboration with Burt Bacharach, and Charles Aznavour's timeless "She," one after the other. Result: goosebumps all over. How can he have such a voice? How can anyone have that much power in their voice? At the end of his own timeless "Shipbuilding," the hall is filled with silence as Costello sings the last line ("Diving for dear life / when we could be diving for pearls") without his microphone.

Elvis performs songs that span his entire career, notably playing some lesser-known gems such as "The River In Reverse" from his collaboration with Allen Toussaint, and "The Other End Of The Telescope" from 1996's All This Useless Beauty which hadn't been played in three years. "Sulphur To Sugarcane" and "A Slow Drag With Josephine," with special guest Kendel Carson on fiddle, display his penchant for country music which has been dominating on his latest albums. This breathes some fresh air into the set, which is one of the fantastic things about an artist like Costello, who has varied his music styles all though his career, making for a unique and eclectic collection of songs in live performances.

The second half of the set sees the band playing most of their hits one after the other. "Watching The Detectives," "Lipstick Vogue," "I Hope You're Happy Now," "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea," "Alison," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Less Than Zero" and "Shipbuilding." "Alison," arguably Costello's most famous song, is given a light melody rework, but still has the audience singing the chorus.

"Lipstick Vogue" and "Chelsea" make it clear why Tom Waits once said Pete Thomas is "one of the best rock drummers alive." It is one thing to listen to it on record, but to actually watch him play those fills right in front of you is really something else.

After his mind-blowing rendition of "Shipbuilding," Elvis turns to the audience: "Here's a song I never thought I'd play no more. It's about a woman I used to really hate," he says. "Now she's dead, and people have been celebrating her death, but I'd never wish anything bad to anyone, no matter what they've done… and she's done a lot! She's dead but I think we can keep on singing this song." That song is "Tramp The Dirt Down" obviously and it sees him singing once again without his microphone at the end for a highly emotional and absolutely dazzling performance, all the more so because of the circumstances.

"(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" has the audience up on its feet again, clapping, dancing and singing. Steve Nieve even wakes up the beast that is the Royal Albert Hall massive organ for a colourful and memorable performance of the Nick Lowe classic.

The encore sees Costello coming back on his own to play a stripped-down version of "Jimmie Standing In The Rain" from his latest album National Ransom. The Imposters then hit the stage again for a dynamite "Pump It Up" that ends the night just as it started: rocking and insanely good fun.

As we're leaving, it's another Elvis' voice that resounds through the hall. But we all know who was The King tonight.

Tags: Royal Albert HallLondonThe ImpostersPete ThomasSteve NieveDavey FaragherKendel CarsonAccidents Will HappenArmed ForcesI Can't Stand Up For Falling DownHigh FidelityUncomplicatedRadio, RadioGod's ComicThe BeatlesAnd Your Bird Can SingJoannaAll Grown UpI Still Have That Other GirlSheTimeMan Out Of TimeClowntime Is OverStrict TimeI Can Sing A RainbowAlmost BlueGreen ShirtPurple RainJokerSpectacular Spinning SongbookNapoleon DynamiteClublandThe PoliceBedlamI Want YouOliver's ArmyAll Grown UpI Still Have That Other GirlBurt BacharachPainted From MemoryCharles AznavourSheShipbuildingThe River In ReverseAllen ToussaintThe Other End Of The TelescopeAll This Useless BeautySulphur To SugarcaneA Slow Drag With JosephineWatching The DetectivesLipstick VogueI Hope You're Happy Now(I Don't Want To Go To) ChelseaAlison(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesLess Than ZeroTom WaitsTramp The Dirt DownMargaret Thatcher(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Nick LoweJimmie Standing In The RainNational RansomPump It UpThe Revolver Tour


In Between The Tracks, June 5, 2013

In Between The Tracks reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters and guest Kendel Carson, Tuesday, June 4, 2013, Royal Albert Hall, London, England.


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