RAMA, ONT. - British singer-songwriter Elvis Costello was without his "spectacular spinning songbook" wheel when he played Casino Rama on Thursday night in front of 3,000 fans.
Apparently, the prop was still in L.A. but no matter.
When Costello brought the wheel featuring his songs on it - which audience members could then spin to determine the evening’s set list - to Toronto’s Sony Centre last June, along with a go-go dancer in a cage, I found all the bells and whistles distracting from the man’s immense talent.
In other words, I wanted more Elvis and less audience.
Thursday night, I got Elvis, and at warp speed. At least initially.
"Good evening! How are you?" said Costello, 57, after running through the first five songs - including the classics Mystery Dance, Radio Radio and Red Shoes - in about 10 minutes.
Nattily attired in his trademark black glasses, a straw gold fedora, navy suit and tie, and navy and white polka dot shirt, Costello eventually joked about the missing wheel after about 100 audience members gathered at the front of the stage started shouting out song requests.
"Normally we bring a great big wheel," said Costello. "But they don’t allow them in places like this (casinos) because they don’t like the competition."
Thankfully, he finally slowed down, delivering major electrical guitar flourish during long and languid versions of I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea and Watching The Detectives in the main set and a cover of the Grateful Dead’s Ramble On Rose in the encore.
He also payed tribute to The Band’s drummer Levon Helm who died at the age of 71 on Thursday afternoon after a long battle with cancer.
“I’m sure you heard the news of the sad passing of the great, great man, Levon Helm,” said Costello who played Tears of Rage in his honor after they had performed it together on his now defunct talk show, Spectacle.
“It was a great honor to share the stage with him and we’re going to miss him a whole lot.”
Otherwise, backed by Imposters drummer Pete Thomas, keyboardist Steve Nieve and bassist Davey Faragher, Costello dug up the musical gold early and often as the hits just kept coming - Red Shoes, Less Than Zero, Every Day I Write The Book, Oliver’s Army, Alison, High Fidelity, Pump It Up, What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding - and even offered up covers of Chuck Berry’s No Particular Place To Go and Sam & Dave’s I Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down (finally getting everyone on their feet for the last song).
Costello explained he’d been “summoned” to attend PEN New England’s first award for song lyrics of literary excellence recently, which had gone to Berry and “that great Canadian poet Leonard Cohen” - and done the dishonor of playing his reworked version of the Berry classic without a band and with Keith Richards in the front row no less.
“These are two men who’ve come to blows over rock n’ roll,” Costello explained, referring to Berry and Richards.
He also impersonated Cohen’s low voice accepting his award: “All of us are footnotes to the words of Chuck Berry.”