Rocking The Midlands, May 17, 2012

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Rocking The Midlands
  • 2012 May 17



Elvis Costello And The Imposters

Birmingham Symphony Hall

Andy Thorley

If I had made a list of what I didn't expect to see at an Elvis Costello gig then pretty near the top of the list would have been a lady dancing in a cage wearing a short purple dress and knee length boots.

But that is precisely the sight that greets us when Elvis and his band take to the stage. And if that confounds expectations then the format of the show is a real mind bender.

Stage right there sits something that looks like it came from the old Wheel of Fortune TV show, but instead of amounts in the segments there are song titles. The wheel will be spun by members of the audience and wherever it lands that song will played.

There is a circus type theme elsewhere – this explains the dancing girl in a cage and also the test of strength machine. It could be an interesting night.

Of course no amount of gimmicks in the world would make any difference if it wasn't for the songs. This show is going to be three hours long give or take and you can only give a monkeys about a spinning wheel for so long. Thankfully, Costello has built up a back catalogue over the years that is the equal of nearly every singer-songwriter type, and is far better than most.

The format for these shows is the same. Each night, the first four songs are replicated, so it starts with "I Hope You're Happy Now" moves into Nick Lowe's "Heart of the City" and climaxes with a magnificent "Radio, Radio" – its line about "being overwhelmed by indifference and the promise of early bed" still perhaps one of the best discussions of apathy in music.

With that, Costello removes his pork pie hat and replaces it with a great big Topper and a cane. You almost expect him to go all Alice Copper and start singing "School's Out" but instead he is playing ringmaster and explaining what is going on tonight. And he's as good as his word. He covers "She" and strolls round the crowd, a parade of people come up to spin the wheel and the band of Imposters plays superbly. A chap wins the strong man test and gets to pick any song he likes – he picks something obscure and Elvis looks delighted. Its that type of evening.

If anything though, the encore ups things still further. After playing two songs mentioning Josephine – one on a ukulele and a Chuck Berry cover (complete with very funny story) he delivers the evening's coup-de-grace, a simply stunning rendition of the anti Tory "Tramp The Dirt Down."

With that, the band joins him and it's a run through some greatest hits, including "Oliver's Army" and (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea, before Elvis himself spins the wheels and gets "Watching The Detectives" before "(What's So Funny About) Peace, Love And Understanding" closes things up.

Sometimes you go to a gig, expecting the gig of the year and it doesn't deliver, it's much better the other way around, when you aren't expecting much and it absolutely marvellous. And that is exactly what happened tonight.

Just like the dancing girls I wasn't expecting that either.

Tags: Symphony HallBirminghamEnglandThe ImpostersKaterina Valentina ValentineDixie De La FontaineI Hope You're Happy NowNick LoweHeart Of The CityRadio, RadioWho's The Meanest Gal In Town JosephineA Slow Drag With JosephineSheNo Particular Place To GoChuck BerryTramp The Dirt DownOliver's Army(I Don't Want To Go To) ChelseaWatching The Detectives(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?


Rocking The Midlands, May 17, 2012

Andy Thorley reviews Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Tuesday, May 15, 2012, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, England.


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