London Guardian, May 20, 2012

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London Guardian

UK & Ireland newspapers


Elvis Costello

City Hall, Newcastle

Dave Simpson

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With a back catalogue as labyrinthine as Costello's, the act of choosing a set list must be arduous and baffling. Hence the "Spinning Songbook," whereby a fairground-style wheel containing the names of 40 songs is spun by members of the audience, who then dance to their chance selections in a cage, occasionally alongside a red-booted go-go dancer.

Any suspicions the wheel may be rigged are banished after it throws up "Harry Worth," from 2008's Momofuku album. Costello explains how it traces the fortunes of a couple whose wedding he attended by accident while staying at a hotel in Bradford, and who visited him at gigs for years until they were suddenly no longer speaking to each other. And the next selection? Harry Worth again. "This is about a couple I met in … " begins the chuckling singer, before suggesting another spin.

In a tight-fitting suit, the skinny 57-year old looks eerily like his punk-era incarnation. Any signs of the ageing process are craftily hidden under a straw boater, and he is clearly revelling in a less familiar role as fairground-style compere. During a dub "Watching the Detectives," he emerges on the balcony to drag down a spinner/victim and doesn't miss the opportunity to quip that the cane he brandishes is "a scale model of Rupert Murdoch's head on a pike."

But the wheel allows him to explore the full panoply of his songbook and every emotion, from country-style regret ("Good Year for the Roses") to uncomfortable home-truths ("Deep Dark Thoughtful Mirror"). A four-song "jackpot" of time-themed songs peaks with a beautifully sung "Man Out of Time."

They are all superb songs, beautifully sung, although Costello realizes that a whole set at random could be uneven and hurls in unlisted selections. The songs range from breakneck punk ("Radio Radio," "Pump It Up") to "rock 'n' roll as it was in the 1920s", from recent album National Ransom.

Most rewarding is the return of his political fire. After a beautifully eerie "Shipbuilding," he explains that he has revived the anti-Thatcher "Tramp the Dirt Down" ("a song I never thought I'd sing again") owing to the return of right-wing conservatism, and sings it with brutally unrestrained venom.

Then it's back to "Oliver's Army" and the rest: a three-hour, 30-song-plus rollercoaster with a human jukebox.


The Guardian, May 20, 2012

Dave Simpson reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Friday, May 18, 2012, City Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.


2012-05-20 London Guardian photo 01 rg.jpg
Photo by Ross Gilmore/Redferns.


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