London Telegraph, May 14, 2012

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London Telegraph

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Elvis Costello, SECC, Glasgow

Showman Elvis Costello spins his big hits to thrilling effect

Matthew Magee

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With one of the best back catalogues in pop, Elvis Costello has a problem: what songs to perform, and what to leave out.

Enter the "Spectacular Spinning Songbook," a 15ft wheel of more than 30 of his hits, plus some multi-song jackpots on themes such as "time" or "happy."

Costello revelled in the carnival atmosphere created by the big wheel. Part showground huckster with hat and cane, part lounge lizard, he mixed bullish, self-aggrandising patter with dry, self-deprecating asides.

Audience members were chosen to spin the wheel by his young, attractive assistant. Slightly creepily, the chosen few were also mostly all young, attractive blondes, and Costello fully revelled in the sleazy showman persona that he louchely poured himself into for the show.

All that showmanship, though, had to stand in for some missing musical muscle on louder, faster songs. Costello's throaty ebullience was lost in a swirl of drums and keyboard flourishes and he was least convincing in the post-punk bounces that made his name, such as "Oliver's Army" and "Pump It Up."

He lacked the energy and conviction that the numbers needed, but had it in spades on more introspective songs.

Costello's capriciousness and preternatural confidence meant that he was never going to stick solely to what the wheel threw up. His caustic, anti-Thatcher cri de coeur, "Tramp the Dirt Down," was paired with a searing "Shipbuilding" in a selection that was personal to him and specific to this show. The songs were a tribute to Glasgow, a city where memories of Thatcherism and the death of Clyde industry are still raw.

Costello's performance was dark, brooding and movingly intense. These two songs were delivered with a malevolent passion that felt specific to this time, this place, these people. It was powerful, polemical and personal, all the more moving for being sandwiched between slices of shallow showground playfulness.

Costello was at his best when he was most interested. Not in "Oliver's Army" or "Peace, Love and Understanding," but very much in the 1920s-style solo acoustic guitar and ukulele encore, from a recent American roots album, or in an impressively inventive cover of "This Wheel's On Fire."

A lacklustre air in the big songs just emphasised how thrilling the rest of the show was, as Costello reacted to the wheel or made his own instant demands of a band that had to be ready to turn on a sixpence to keep up.

The thrill of touring can pall after 30 years. Costello looks to have found a way of making sure that boredom never afflicts him, or his audiences.

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The Daily Telegraph, May 14, 2012


Matthew Magee reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Friday, May 11, 2012, SECC, Glasgow, Scotland.

Images

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Photo by Ross Gilmore.

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