It was a great idea then and it’s an even better idea now. Back in 1987 (or thereabouts), when a nascent version of this show was performed at Dublin’s Olympia across several nights, Elvis Costello’s back catalogue was a mere 10 years old. Now, he has God knows how many more songs across God knows how many music genres and styles.
But how to engage an audience of (I’d guess) mostly fans and some casual observers without short-changing the former or irritating the latter? The answer is both complex and simple: let fate determine the set list. Or, perhaps more truthfully, a fate determined within the parameters of a song-based Spectacular Spinning Songbook.
And so the likes of audience members Adele, Mary, Una, Emmet and a few more unsuspecting types (all unafraid, let it be noted, to shimmy unashamedly in the onstage go-go cage) spun the wheel, resulting in Elvis Costello and The Imposters springing into action and getting stuck into a selection of songs that included "Alison," "(I Don’t Want to go to) Chelsea," "Beyond Belief," "Oliver’s Army," "She," "Motel Matches," "Everyday I Write the Book," "I Still Have That Other Girl," "Veronica," "Suit of Lights," and "Pump it Up."
As a reasonably random choice of songs from Costello’s extensive back catalogue there wasn’t a dud. As a display of yet another side to Costello’s many stringed bow, it was as much a pleasure to see him channel his inner Tommy Cooper and Woody Allen as it was to realise that, in the middle of all the gaiety and wisecracks, he’s still got the nerve and steely self-possession to conclude a lengthy show (it lasted for almost three hours, no intermission) with a guitar-shredding version of "I Want You," the hands-down winner amid Costello’s collection of intense, emotionally visceral songs.
One can only presume that there’s a certain irony at play: the show began with a sprightly rendition of I Hope You’re Happy Now and ended with an obsessive howl. Most edifying, most amusing — God’s comic, indeed.