Little House of Concrete, February 1, 2013

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Little House of Concrete



Elvis Costello & The Imposters

Ian Hughes

State Theatre, Sydney

I'm inclined to think of it as a sort of post-post modern reaction to the realization that an artist isn't going to make a motza out of album sales. In an everything old is new again approach to things, the emphasis is back on touring, providing value for money and entertainment while keeping things fresh and interesting for the performers.

With the Spectacular Spinning Songbook Elvis Costello has got it just about right on all fronts, and I have to admit my first reaction as I walked out of the State Theatre on Wednesday night was along the lines of wanting every show to feature the Wheel, closely followed by regret that I hadn't been to the Melbourne show the previous Friday.

It didn't take much further thought to realize the every show with the Wheel concept was basically flawed, not least on the keeping it fresh and interesting for the performers front. It also rules out the possibilities of Elvis Solo (a la Brisbane 2009) where he's got the chance to draw on the full extent of his vast back catalogue, an Elvis/Steve duo show, a perfectly paced set from the Imposters that covers most of the obvious places and still has things to interest those of us who want the obscurities, or Elvis in an orchestral or big band setting either with or without some combination of Steve and The Imposters.

That's a fairly wide range of options. I can't think of many other performers who could offer that many choices, and Costello's flair and imagination means the Spinning Songbook isn't just a selection of sixty-odd songs shifted into a random order.

Other people might be tempted to do that, but not Elvis.

You need opportunities to work the randomness into something resembling a paced setlist, and he delivers some of that by including a number of nonspecific items in the options.

The first of those are a number of bonus items, like the "Time" bonus, where all he's committed to is the vague idea that the songs have "Time" in the title, or possibly have some reference to its passage. A "Time" bonus might, therefore, feature "Man Out of Time," which is on the wheel anyway, "American Gangster Time" which wasn't, "Time Is On My Side" or "The Last Time," or, conceivably, "The Long Honeymoon."

Then there are a number of album versus album options, like "King's Ransom," which will deliver two songs, one from each album, with the choice made on stage by your host, presumably based on a mixture of where the setlist needs to go, what they've got ready to roll and what Elvis actually feels like playing.

Finally there's The Hammer of Song, a variation of the old fairground test of strength, with the successful dinger getting their choice played (assuming it's on the wheel).

The opening and closing sections of the show, predictably, don't feature the Wheel at all, and deliver the possibility of throwing in any of the usual suspects that haven't had an airing to wind things up and send the customers away satisfied.

So, all in all, the whole package delivers the possibility of a thoroughly enjoyable evening's entertainment, assuming everything runs to plan, and if it doesn't there are avenues there to allow them to be manipulated into something that's going to work better.

After a low key opening set by Joe Camilleri and friends George Butrumlis and (I'm guessing here, Joe didn't introduce the other guitarist) Tony Faehse that wasn't likely to divert attention from the headliner Elvis and the Imposters delivered a one-two-three-four salvo of "I Hope You're Happy Now," "Heart of the City," "Mystery Dance" and "Radio, Radio" that was almost guaranteed to get things off to a rocking start and satisfy the not too many obscurities crowd. With the preliminaries (the Overture, according to the EC website, with terpsichorean styles of Ms. Kelly Kay Kelly) out of the way Costello (quite literally) changed hats, morphing into Napoleon Dynamite, ringmaster and entertainer extraordinaire.

And this, folks, is where the extra keep it interesting and fresh for the performer factor kicks in, because the interaction, which is going to vary from guest spinner to guest spinner, delivers the chance to vary the spiel and, quite possibly, add some new angles that can be incorporated into future shows.

It was, however, fairly obvious that the chosen ones tended to fit a fairly obvious demographic. The first couple up had a beanpolish be-hatted young dude, with the obligatory attractive girlfriend, and the majority of those who ended up in the spotlight tended to be young, female and easy on the eye. Hardly surprising, really. They're not likely to be looking for old grizzled blokes like Your Correspondent, who might do something tricky like ask for "Shatterproof" because he lives in the Little House of Concrete, which hopefully is and the bank manager who made it possible is in the audience.

You can loosen things up, but you're not going to want to be loosening things up that much.

In a miracle of alliteration, Beanpolish Be-hatted Dude's spin produced the "Beauty Or Beast" Jackpot, which turned out to be "All This Useless Beauty" followed by "Monkey To Man." Other possibilities could well have included anything from the All This Useless Beauty album ("Distorted Angel"? "Almost Ideal Eyes"?) if you wanted to head down that route, and if you wanted to widen the "Beauty" bit you could conceivably stretch it to, say "Lipstick Vogue."

As far as Beasts are concerned, "King Horse"? "Pads, Paws And Claws"? "Leave My Kitten Alone"?

See what I'm getting at?

There were plenty of options again when the second spin brought up a second jackpot, the "King's Ransom," which turned out to be "Indoor Fireworks" and "I Lost You" out of thirty-something possibilities, and the third spin went to "Roses," which could have been "A Good Year for the Roses," but we'd just been over into the country spectrum, so we got "Song With Rose."

That, being a co-write with Rosanne Cash, delivered a complication when "Cash" came up next but we got "Cry Cry Cry" ahead of, say "Complicated Shadows" (which was, if I recall correctly, written for The Man In Black).

The jackpots continued with "Time" resulting in a predictable "Strict Time" and "Out Of Time" and it wasn't until Spin Six that we got something that didn't leave a great deal of leeway with "Less Than Zero" being specified.

Asked for their choices the next couple up on stage named "Pump It Up" and "Long Honeymoon," a strange enough combination to bring The Hammer Of Songs into play (successfully, as it turned out) and while I could have done without "Alison" again, I'm glad it turned up because something sparked Elvis around that point.

"Alison" sort of morphed into "I Hope" which was followed by a rapid fire "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," "High Fidelity," "Oliver's Army" and "Watching The Detectives," all apparently spur of the moment decisions.

Spin Eight came up with the "Time" Jackpot again, so we got "Beyond Belief" and "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" to wind up the main set.

With the crowd already on their feet, as they had been for a good twenty-something minutes, so when Elvis and Steve appeared to begin what the published setlist labels the Finale, he kicked off with what he labelled the "Joanna" Jackpot, which gave Steve the excuse to do a little ivory-tinkling on "She," followed by "Everyday I Write The Book" and "Napoleon's Spin," which turned out to be "Accidents Will Happen." Wind things up with "Man Out Of Time" (Spin Eight honoured) and "Peace, Love and Understanding" and there you have it, in all its semi-random glory.

As I remarked to The Pope of Pop over a chilled article in The Marble Bar afterwards, a five track Finale was a bit different from the repeat one encore after another that EC usually seems to favour (two encores, ten songs here), but a hard rocking half hour before the encore break meant that we were never going to get more than one closing salvo.

We were back at the stage exit to catch Elvis and band on the way out, a good forty minutes after the show closed, and it was fairly obvious that the man was, not to put too fine a point on it, stuffed, which seemed to confirm the one encore's all you were ever going to get theory.

Looking back on it, you'd be hard pressed to find anything to complain about, or at least anything that might approximate a reasonable expectation, and a squiz at the setlist from the previous Friday's show in Melbourne reveals how much things can vary from night to night with this formula.

That, in turn, explains why I'm looking forward to the Return of the Wheel at some point in the future, and when it does reappear on these shores, come hell or high water, Hughesy's off to the lot, the judge's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

And that, in turn, delivers a fairly clear commercial message to any promoters out there. Slot him into the right venues and you can probably turn an Elvis Costello tour into a reasonable little money spinner. Some Wheel shows interspersed between a run around the wineries, non-wheel Imposters shows in, say Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne, ship Davey Faragher and Pete Thomas back to Jack Shit territory outside Los Angeles and swing Elvis and Steve back across the country doing a duo thing and you could probably cover the expense of bringing the crew to these shores rather comfortably, and turn a tidy profit afterwards.

As far as Elvis is concerned, the whole thing, this whole range of viable commercial options verifies a justly earned reputation as a very canny operator as far as establishing a career path that allows him to make a comfortable living doing what he feels like...

Tags: State TheatreSydneyAustraliaThe ImpostersJoe CamilleriSpectacular Spinning SongbookTimeMan Out Of TimeAmerican Gangster TimeThe Last TimeThe Long HoneymoonKing's RansomThe Hammer Of SongsTony FaehseI Hope You're Happy NowHeart Of The CityMystery DanceRadio, RadioMs. Kelly Kay KellyNapoleon DynamiteShatterproofAll This Useless Beauty (song)Monkey To ManAll This Useless BeautyDistorted AngelAlmost Ideal EyesLipstick VogueKing HorsePads, Paws And ClawsLeave My Kitten AloneIndoor FireworksI Lost YouRosesGood Year For The RosesSong With RoseRosanne CashCashCry, Cry, CryComplicated ShadowsThe Man In BlackStrict TimeOut Of TimeLess Than ZeroPump It UpAlisonI HopeI Can't Stand Up For Falling DownHigh FidelityOliver's ArmyWatching The DetectivesBeyond Belief(I Don't Want To Go To) ChelseaJoannaSteve NieveSheEveryday I Write The BookAccidents Will HappenMan Out Of Time(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?Davey FaragherPete ThomasJackshit


Little House of Concrete, February 1, 2013

Ian Hughes reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters and opening act Joe Camilleri, Wednesday, January 30, 2013, State Theatre, Sydney, Australia.


2013-02-01 Little House of Concrete photo 01 ih.jpg
Photos by Ian Hughes.

2013-02-01 Little House of Concrete photo 02 ih.jpg

2013-02-01 Little House of Concrete photo 03 ih.jpg
Photos by Ian Hughes.


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