Believe it: Elvis Costello brought his Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour to Southend last night, and rattled off a hugely entertaining and enjoyable – positively Springsteenian – two-and-three-quarter hour show. I went expecting a good time, but in the event I had a great time.
For this tour Costello has discovered a novel way to keep things fresh. Not for him is endless poring over set lists in a fruitless quest to construct the ultimate show. Instead he has engineered the elegant idea of having a spinning wheel decorated with song titles. Want another song? Let’s spin the wheel and we’ll play whatever comes up…
Mixing game show ideas with rock n roll is a pretty odd idea, but it works excellently in this context, although let’s hope no one else catches on: I don’t necessarily want to see Lemmy growling the catchphrase “Bring on the wall…”, or Ozzy presenting a new series of Blankety Blank. (Actually, I would definitely watch that just to hear Ozzy saying “here’s your f- blankety-blank f- cheque book and f- pen. Now p- off…”).
Right from opening song “Can’t Stand Up (For Falling Down)”, Costello and his band (including Steve Nieve on keys) rattled through the songs like the new-wave upstarts they once were.
With a set dominated by the Spectacular Spinning Wheel, but featuring other fairground items, a lounge area and a well-utilised GoGo dancing podium, it was clear Costello is not content to simply fade into a cozy and comfortable semi-retirement. After an excellent “Radio Radio” Costello picked up a cane, introduced himself as fairground carny “Napoleon Dynamite” and had one of his dancers (“the mysterious Josephine”) to bring members of the audience onstage to spin the wheel and choose a song.
It was a splendid MacGuffin which broke the barrier between audience and performer to great effect. After spinning the wheel, each audience member was escorted to the lounge area (“Please sit on the solid gold chairs…” asked Costello “…we’ve just had them resprayed”) and we got to hear a mix of deep cuts (“Deep Dark Truthful Mirror”) old favourites (“Lip Service”) and popular hits (“She”) about which latter song Costello quipped “Choosing me to do that song was like casting George Clooney as the Hunchback of Notre Dame…”
Continuing the game show theme, the gig took a fun turn as comedian and regular “Never Mind The Buzzcocks” team captain (and local resident) Phill Jupitus, who happened to be in the crowd, was the next audience member invited to spin the wheel. Jupitus gamely joined in with the onstage dancers and even took a turn in the dancing podium, beginning a popular trend on the night. That’s how we roll in Southend. “Baby You’re Out Of Time” was a highlight of this part of the show, after which Costello went for his first walk amongst at the crowd and we were treated to “Every Day I Write The Book”, followed by a standout “Pretty Words” and the lovely “Alison”.
I won’t spoil the rest of the show – suffice to say we were treated to more “Songs of Sneer” (as Costello referred to his “New Wave classics”), Costello covered almost every inch of the theatre, and there was also a dip into his more political songs including a terrific “Shipbuilding”. It is great that time has not dimmed Costello’s anger at the injustice in the world and a few songs played on his acoustic guitar brought an extra layer of depth to the show.
To round things off, Costello served up a plethora of hits, to remind us just how many great songs he has written over the years, including “Oliver’s Army“, “I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea”, “Girl Talk”, “Watching The Detectives“, “Pump It Up” and a jubilant “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”.
It would be easy to take Elvis Costello for granted, so let me say that if you ever get the chance to see Elvis Costello live, do not pass it up. He’s on top form and I haven’t been as impressed and entertained by a one man show since I saw Bruce Springsteen.
In fact, there are a number of similarities between the two men: blue collar values, charisma and an ability to pen a great tune amongst them. So could it be said that Elvis Costello is the closest thing we have to a British Bruce Springsteen? Oh no. After last night’s show, I’d say Springsteen is the closest thing we have to an American Elvis Costello…
Elvis Costello and the Imposters play Glastonbury on 26-30 June and Hyde Park on 12 July
Record #205: Elvis Costello – Pretty Words
Categories: Live Reviews