I had the great opportunity of seeing Elvis Costello again last night, this time on his “Revolver” tour, another installment of his Big Wheel of Songs concert format. It was a stellar show: 2-and-1/2 hours of music — with only brief breaks to bring up another audience member to spin the wheel — no opening act, and no intermission. His vocals never faltered– Elvis sounds as good, if not better, than ever, and his Imposters band, which included original Attractions Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, were in top form. They kicked off with a furious 6-song preplanned set, and then switched over to the wheel, which Elvis occasionally “adjusted” to land on a song he felt like playing. I’ve seen him several times over the years, and this may very well have been his best performance of the bunch. (Although having Nick Lowe open for him on a previous installment of “The Wheel” format back around 1986 was pretty awesome.) His 1983 performance at the Cape Cod Coliseum on his Punch the Clock tour was my least favorite: it was hot and stuffy, the acoustics were very muddy, and he was cranky — a far cry from last night’s showman. The best thing about that show in retrospect was that I got to see Elvis in his relatively early years.
When one audience member spun the wheel and it landed on “Girls,” one of the several “themes” on the wheel alongside many individual songs, Elvis played a great series of songs: “Party Girl,” “This Year’s Girl,” and the song I’m featuring here today for Cover Friday, “Girls Talk.” The moment he started playing it I knew what I’d be posting about today. It’s sort of a backwards cover song: it was written by Elvis, but recorded first by Dave Edmunds (with Rockpile, the band of cohorts including Nick Lowe that he recorded with throughout the late ’70s). Edmunds’ version, from his truly fantastic 1979 album, Repeat When Necessary, is a faster, jangly, power-pop version of the song, rocking along at a fast clip. It’s probably my favored version, even over Elvis’s own recording of it, which came out the following year on his Taking Liberties album. Elvis slowed it down, with some haunted keyboards, giving it an entirely different flavor, more the sound of a stalker trying to figure out what girls are saying about him rather than Edmunds’ more innocent-sounding “confused guy” take. Last night, Elvis seemed to play it more in the style of the Edmunds version: faster, less haunted. It was just one of many highlights of the night, but always one of my favorite Costello songs.