Arguably history’s most affable rock n’ roll veteran, Elvis Costello is once again back in town to charm and entertain in equal measure.
This time, he’s decided to dust off his slice of Vaudevillian splendor, the Spectacular Singing Songbook show for his two theatre performances, the centerpiece of which is an 18 foot upright spinning prize wheel filled with song titles from throughout his considerable catalogue.
Hits, rarities, and covers are all included, as are a number of ‘mystery songs’, in the form of core thematic concepts buried across his canon, which could well represent most any song to unearth live, likely for this first time in many years.
Costello’s band The Imposters also appear – comprised of long-time collaborators Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas, and Dave Faragher – the vastness of The Palais’ stage appearing unusually close under the sheer size of the game-show wheel.
Not to mention the other elements of Costello’s Vaudevillian-inspired set; the Society Lounge, large, standalone follow spotlight and the Hostage of Fortune Go-Go Cage.
Taking straight to their instruments without a word, the band open up with ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now, from 1986’s Blood & Chocolate. A cover of Nick Lowe’s ‘Heart Of The City’ quickly follows, as does ‘Mystery Dance’, ‘Uncomplicated’ and the 1978 hit ‘Radio Radio’.
This rapid-fire warm-up sees the band as enthusiastic and authoritative as ever.
Nieve and Thomas’ time with Costello dates back to 1978 and the genesis of his backing band of artistic sophisticates, The Attractions, and this band possess a learned confluence, the result of over 30 years of shows and some twenty-odd studio albums.
It’s at this point that the show takes a relatively expected twist, with Costello relieving himself of guitar and straw boater in favour of black top hat and cane, and, introducing himself as Napoleon Dynamite (his use of that particular appellation pre-dating the film by thereabouts of 20 years), addresses the crowd with the evening’s order of proceedings.
Tonight’s show represents a grand effort to break down the barriers between performer and punter, with audience members invited up to the stage to spin the giant wheel, before repairing to the onstage Society Lounge for refreshments and/or a dance in the Go-Go cage.
To this end, Costello has brought with him ‘Kelly’, a Go-Go dancer dolled up in swinging ‘60s dress, which gave the impression Costello may have lifted it directly from the set of Austin Powers.
Much to the crowd’s delight, the first song spun was ‘Oliver’s Army’, a rarity in Costello’s set these days, or as Costello noted dryly: “Great, a song about British Imperialism, just the thing for a Vaudevillian evening.”
A revolving cast of audience members stepped to the stage, plucked out of the audience by an accomplice in tight fitting glitter dress, spinning hits and rarities ‘My All Time Doll’, ‘The River In Reverse’, ‘I Want You’, a cracking medley of ‘So Like Candy’, and the Nina Simone via The Animals classic ‘’Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, amongst a host of others.
A further highlight came from a masterful cover of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ to mark the end of his set, perhaps coincidentally, the same day that news surfaced of Costello’s inclusion, alongside D’Angelo and Booker T. Jones, in a forthcoming Prince tribute show in NYC.
The band return for a slew of encores, the wheel now dispensed with as Costello leaves nothing to chance, focusing solely on the more cherished elements of his knot of past masters, finishing on the tried and true ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding’.
The ensemble bow to lengthy standing ovation before the crowd file into the night content and empowered by the knowledge that they, collectively, had a part in navigating an evening with rock n’ roll royalty.