With two major concerts in town on Friday night — Elvis Costello at the Pageant and Eddie Vedder at the Fox — some fans may have been hard-pressed to choose which show to attend.
Those who wanted to see both but opted for Costello wound up getting their wish. Just a few minutes into the show, Vedder strode out of the wings and joined Costello on a driving cover of the Who's "Substitute."
Special moments like that happen all too rarely in St. Louis, and the packed house went suitably bonkers.
It was merely the first of many highlights to come, however.
Costello's show featured his "Spectacular Spinning Songbook," a giant, multicolored wheel covered with song titles. Audience members were invited onstage to spin the wheel, thus determining much of the evening's set list.
"Tonight, we are gonna hear songs about love! Songs about sex! Songs about death and songs about dancing," Costello declared. "But not necessarily in that order."
Once onstage, the wheel spinners were invited to sit in the "society lounge" — a chintzy bar set-up Costello claimed he'd gotten from Donald Trump - or dance in a go-go cage.
Costello served a variety of roles. He was a rock star, a song and dance man, a game show host and comedian. "I don't want to worry you, but these people's enjoyment of the next five minutes is entirely in your hands," he told one contestant.
With so many distractions, it would have been easy for the music to get lost, but that never happened. Contestants drew hits as well as obscurities. When a girl named Alison spun the wheel, Costello walked over and stopped it on - what else? - his hit, "Alison."
There was a cascade of other favorites, including "Radio Radio," "Watching the Detectives" and "(What's So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
Some of the wheel's tiles contained themes, and when a spin landed on "I Can Sing a Rainbow," Costello reeled off a handful of color-oriented songs: "Green Shirt," "Blue Chair," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" and even a slice of Prince's "Purple Rain." Later in the show, Costello tackled the themes "Girl," "Happy" and "Time."
Musically, his band the Imposters — keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher — were ready for anything Costello threw at them. Nieve supplied his familiar piano flourishes and showed his skill on the theremin, using it to duel Costello's fierce guitar solo on "Turpentine."
Costello interpolated songs like Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me," and Them's "I Can Only Give You Everything" into his own tunes, creating something new along the way. The technique was never more effective than when he began Bob Dylan and the Band's apocalyptic "This Wheel's on Fire," then moved into his own impassioned post-Katrina plea for New Orleans, "The River in Reverse."
It was a powerful but sobering moment in a concert that otherwise offered nearly three hours of hilarity, musicality and unabated joy.