ELVIS Costello has long been the master of reinvention.
Sometimes this has come through working with Elvis’s initially dismissive producer Billy Sherrill on a country covers albums, or Paul McCartney, or Burt Bacharach, or Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie Von Otter, or this year the hip-hop veterans The Roots.
At other times, it has involved shaking up his live set, switching from The Attractions, to solo; adding the TKO Horns; then breaking away with The Confederates; back to The Attractions and onwards to The Imposters, essentially The Attractions’ keyboard professor Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas with a different bassist, Davey Faragher.
The Revolver Tour gives new wind to Costello’s Spectacular Spinning Songbook, which he first span at the Royal Albert Hall when he was still having hits.
It is a canny show, one that plays to those who know Oliver’s Army, Alison and Pump It Up but also allows him to slip surprises such as Strict Time and a latter-day gem like Jimmie Standing In The Rain into the two and a half hours.
The decision to have standing room as well as seating may have robbed him of a sell-out but was vindicated by the show’s format of punchy, breakneck oldies at the start and finish, and the walkabout Spinning Songbook in between.
Costello switched between front man in patent leather shoes and silver trilby and bantering, witty master-of-ceremonies mode as Napoleon Dynamite, in top hat and cane, with dancer Dixie Delafonte in a cage and the Mysterious Josephine as his assistant in picking audience members.
This they did by searchlight, or wandering into the crowd, to invite them to spin that wheel for a song title or a theme or a Joker free choice or the chance to hit the Golden Hammer for “Songs Of Sneer”, “Ladies Excuse Me” or “The Hits Of Tomorrow”.
When it settled on Joanna, it was the cue for Nieve to excel on piano, especially when one audience member asked for Shot With His Own Gun, a startling, long-forgotten chill off the 1981 album Trust.
Those chosen audience members could lounge on stage with a drink or dance in the cage or… as Elvis promised, the wheel had powers of love so powerful that dapper Alex proposed to party-dressed Catherine. Luckily, the wheel never settled on Accidents Will Happen.
Has Costello ever been in better voice, especially on Shipbuilding? And what dignity he brought to Tramp The Dirt Down, not glorying in the dementia death of bete noir Margaret Thatcher but vehement in saying the song’s political sentiments still stood.
Springsteen, Young, and now Costello; what a summer for rock’s evergreen heavyweights this is turning out to be.