Elvis Costello is a man who knows how to have fun on stage.
Bringing his Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour to the Paramount Theatre Thursday night, Costello was all smiles as he invited concertgoers to the stage to choose songs by spinning a giant, multicolored roulette wheel filled with song titles. The wheel, which made its debut 25 years ago, was gleefully received by nostalgia-minded fans.
Donning a top hat and sporting a silver-tipped cane, Costello promised (and delivered) "songs of love, songs about sex, songs about death and dancing, but not necessarily in that order."
For Costello, whose repertoire is immense, the wheel was a clever mechanism for choosing songs. It also proved awkward, landing on tunes that hindered the show's momentum. But Costello compensated by occasionally adjusting the set list to suit his mood.
"Some of these songs are my friends," he quipped, glancing at the wheel, "and some of them have frankly betrayed me."
Adding to the carnivallike atmosphere was a go-go dancer in a cage, who shared her space with a succession of wheel-spinning guests. Behind her was the Society Lounge, a tiny bar with two stools and an old TV (tuned to Fox News, Costello teased), at which guests could chill with a beverage and collect play money after giving the wheel a spin.
Backing Costello were the Imposters, a talented and seasoned trio featuring keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas. And scrambling to keep Costello's array of guitars in tune was a very busy guitar tech.
The show rocked pretty hard for most of its 2½ hours, but Costello was often at his best when he cooled things down for ballads, such as "A Slow Drag With Josephine" and "Veronica" or the moving, a cappella "Jimmie Standing in the Rain."
Among the many favorites included in the marathon show were "Radio, Radio," "Accidents Will Happen," "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," "Watching the Detectives" and the final song, a beautiful "Every Day I Write the Book."
Costello also interjected several classic rock 'n' roll songs, including "Wild Thing," "Please Please Me" and Chuck Berry's "No Particular Place to Go."