Vancouver Sun, April 3, 2012

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The big wheel keeps on turning for Elvis Costello

Francois Marchand

When the special limited-edition version of Elvis Costello's Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook was released just before Christmas last year, Costello did something rather odd: He asked people not to buy it.

Costello was apparently none too pleased with the CD/DVD/vinyl box set's hefty price tag, which was more than $300 in Canada, and he took to his website to tell his fans what he thought.

The price tag, he wrote, was "either a misprint or a satire."

"If you should really want to buy something special for your loved one at this time of seasonal giving, we can wholeheartedly recommend Ambassador of Jazz — a cute little imitation suitcase, covered in travel stickers and embossed with the name 'Satchmo,' but, more important, containing TEN re-mastered albums by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived — Louis Armstrong."

Costello also wholeheartedly recommended fans wait for the retail version of the live album, recorded during a two-night stand at the Wiltern in Los Angeles in May 2011, to be released before making a purchase — that is, if you hadn't acquired it through "unconventional means," he added.

Now that said version is slated to hit store shelves (digital or otherwise) on April 3, Costello still stands by his rather sardonic attack on the pricing of what was meant to be a fan-oriented package.

"What I couldn't accept was the pricing of this deluxe edition," Costello said in a phone interview. "I think the record business was the most fun when it had some sense of panache, and you occasionally did things without worrying about the cost of them, because they got people jazzed up. Obviously, these are different times, and I haven't really appreciated that. So I had a difference of opinion. It had nothing to do with the music, of course."

There is indeed little to complain about when it comes to The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook.

On the album, Costello and his band the Imposters — keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas — revive the spirit of a concert that was conceived 25 years prior at the Beverly Theatre in L.A., which proved to be one of the last shining moments for Costello's band the Attractions, featuring bassist Bruce Thomas.

The concert, which makes its Canadian debut in Vancouver on April 10, stars a giant "wheel of fortune" contraption — featuring a number of song titles, names and "open" topics — that fans are invited on stage to spin.

The original Beverly Theatre concert featured special appearances by the Bangles, who returned for the Wiltern show to sing "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)," and Tom Waits.

"I didn't really think of it as an anniversary of that first time," Costello said of the May 2011 performances documented in the live album, which have since lead to a long Spinning Songbook tour. "We did it then and we're doing it now, and I don't think the two things are really connected, because, when I first came up with it, it was part of a five-night presentation with different bands and solo shows, and, one frivolous night, the show was run this way.

"Obviously, 25 years later, there's so much more material to consider, that the reason for doing it is perhaps different: It gives us a way to put all those songs in play, from the most recently written to the oldest, and let them fight it out."

That means songs from Costello's latest album, National Ransom, are now duking it out against classics like "Alison," "Radio, Radio" and "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," as well as a selection of covers Costello has a soft spot for.

The whole thing is presented like a colourful cabaret game show, complete with assistant hostess and go-go cage.

Because of the fickle nature of the wheel, the show can jump from an upbeat number to a solo acoustic ballad without notice, but Costello said he ensured all the songs on the "spinning songbook" were ones he enjoyed doing.

"It makes for a really unique show," Costello said. "The fact that people are involved, not just in selecting it, but that they are persuaded to go into the go-go cage — you see people who can dance and people who really shouldn't, but are having a great time nonetheless. I really don't think we could ask for more from an evening."

The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook show also allowed Costello to resuscitate alter ego host, Napoleon Dynamite, which he created for 1986's Blood & Chocolate, and he initially brought to life at the Beverly Theatre show 25 years ago. (Costello's character, evidently, predates the 2004 indie geek movie of the same name, with which it has no connection.)

"You have to be a different sort of character to cajole and flatter people who come up on stage," he said. "It's a slightly schizophrenic existence, but it's enjoyable. You can get away with saying the most outrageous things to people."

Costello laughed.

"From night to night, the show is different. Any one recording of this particular presentation would be radically different than the next. That DVD and CD is a snapshot of it, but of course, we went on and had all sorts of adventures throughout the last year. We didn't anticipate doing this fifth run of dates with the wheel. People have really loved it."

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


The Vancouver Sun, April 3, 2012

Francois Marchand profiles Elvis Costello ahead of his concert with The Imposters, Tuesday, April 10, 2012, Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver.


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