Melbourne Age, April 15, 2011

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The perfect host


Bernard Zuel

Elvis Costello switches between TV and touring.

More than one journalist is watching Elvis Costello on his chat-and-music television show, Spectacle, who has had what we might call a Marvellettes moment.

As Costello would know, one of the great songs by the early Motown band the Marvellettes was The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game. And seeing the man who spent decades as the scourge of the under-prepared, stupid or plain unlucky interviewer manoeuvring through interviews with fellow musicians (and the occasional president) who aren't always snappy, funny or illuminating does give a sense of "now you know what it feels like, sunshine".

The only problem is most of the time the interviews are really good, the joint performances even better and you get the feeling that as much as you're enjoying it, it probably isn't close to how much pleasure Costello is having chatting with the likes of Zooey Deschanel, Tony Bennett, U2 and Smokey Robinson, who wrote that Marvellettes song.

"Well, it's pretty great company," Costello says.

"And you're on one of the great stages of show business [the Apollo Theatre in New York], so you'd have to be very miserable if you didn't enjoy that."

What's most enjoyable: talking to them, playing alongside them or tapping into their musical minds?

"I don't think I'm exactly tapping into their minds," he says breezily.

"One of the things I wanted to make clear to people coming in was that I wasn't shining a light in their eyes and getting them to confess some dark secret. Some of the people have said they felt more at ease because we do the same things. The only exception to that was [former US] president [Bill] Clinton because I haven't been the president of any country. Not yet."

Given the parlous state of the recording industry, a TV show might seem a good alternative career for a 56-year-old musician whose biggest chart success was in 1979. Except that Costello is as busy today, musically, as he's ever been.

Last year he released his 33rd album, the bluegrass and country-tinged National Ransom, toured with the Brodsky Quartet, performed with orchestras and did a round of solo shows. Not long before, he'd been on the Police re-formation tour, played with Bob Dylan, written pieces for jazz bands, done backing vocals on a Jenny Lewis album and fathered twin boys with his wife of seven years, singer Diana Krall. As he said recently, "I like not having to choose one thing or another. Life for me is all about movement."

And Costello clearly still finds time to listen to new music.

"There is an awful lot of music that is in plain view so it's hard to avoid it completely but you don't need to hear every note," he says.

Speaking of being selective, with National Ransom songs on the roster, we're talking more than 400 tunes from which to choose when Costello and his band, the Imposters, play the State Theatre and Bluesfest. Maybe he needs to return to an old favourite from the '80s: the spinning wheel dotted with song titles, spun for a random choice of songs.

"Who knows?" Costello says. "So many people have done things of a game-show nature now that it would almost have to be an exploding wheel."


Tags: SpectacleThe Hunter Gets Captured By The GameZooey DeschanelTony BennettU2Smokey RobinsonApollo TheaterBill ClintonNational RansomThe Brodsky QuartetThe PoliceBob DylanJenny LewisDiana KrallThe ImpostersState TheatreBluesfest

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The Age, April 15, 2011


Bernard Zuel writes about Spectacle: Elvis Costello with.... This article also appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.


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