Elvis Costello and The Imposters – Live at Southend

Elvis Costello and The Imposters Live At Southend on Sea
Elvis Costello and The Imposters Live At Southend on Sea

What a show! Go-Go dancers, angry anti-establishment songs and a ton of energy coming from the stage. No, it’s not The Beastie Boys‘ first tour again, it’s…Elvis Costello and The Imposters.

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.

Elvis Costello IMG_7869

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…

Elvis Costello live at Southend IMG_7880

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…”).

Elvis Costello Live at Southend IMG_7827

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.

Elvis Costello Live Southend Imposters IMG_7819

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.

Elvis Costello IMG_7764
“Not tonight Josephine…” Elvis as alter ego Napoleon Dynamite…

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…”

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Fancy a dance? Go Go Elvis..

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”.

Phill Jupitus dancing Elvis Costello Southend on Sea IMG_7792
Phill Jupitus shakes his stuff onstage with Elvis Costello’s dancers last night at the Southend on Sea show

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.

Elvis Costello holding a megaphone IMG_7890

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”.

Elvis Costello IMG_7750

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.

Elvis Costello live IMG_7845
Didn’t anyone tell him it’s rude to point?

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


12 responses to “Elvis Costello and The Imposters – Live at Southend”

  1. Paul Knight Avatar
    Paul Knight

    I saw Elvis play the Royal Albert Hall in 1987 – he had the very same ‘spinning wheel’ way back then too =)


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Wow – I didn’t realise this idea was so old. This was my first time seeing him and as you can tell I was really impressed.


  2. John S Avatar

    Somehow missed this tour. But agree Elvis is one of the greats. I think “King of America” is his most Bruce-like album. My own favourite remains “This Year’s Model” but there are many contenders.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I’ll have to check that one out – as you say he has a lot of good songs and albums. My Aim Is True has been a favourite of mine for a whole, and I agree that This Years Model is also excellent.


  3. HipsterApproved.net Avatar

    Wow! These are some great pictures.

    Elvis was one of the few bands I saw really close up at Woodstock ’99. He was fantastic!


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thank you! It’s a good venue for getting up close, and it was a very visual show – which helps.
      That Woodstock event must have been interesting to go to…


  4. The world, according to Andy Sweeney Avatar

    Excellent review – I was there. In fact, I did six of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook gigs… Royal Albert Hall (x2 – first two nights), Sheffield, Liverpool, Southend and Brighton. Myself and my wife were lucky enough to be selected to go up on stage at the Brighton gig and I randomly selected “Chelsea” by means of the wheel’s spin. It was an incredible couple of weeks and I don’t regret the money or time I spent on these gigs.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Wow – that’s pretty hardcore! Nice to get a chance to spin the wheel too – I hope you entered the go-go dancing “cage”….


      1. The world, according to Andy Sweeney Avatar

        I’m afraid that my bad knee and my wife’s disability meant that we were only able to relax in the “society lounge” and look on in awe at Elvis’ performance. It was the experience of a lifetime!


      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        At least you preserved your dignity! I’m quite envious – it must have been amazing to have Elvis perform whilst you were onstage with him.


      3. The world, according to Andy Sweeney Avatar

        Oh yes, without wishing to be clichéd, it was a dream come true… and I was floating for days afterwards. He’s one of my personal musical heroes, so it meant a huge amount to me.


  5. […] he has left his band behind, along with the go-go girls, lounge area and spinning song wheel (see my review of last year’s show). There’s no drum kit: it’s just Elvis onstage, with a guitar or two and his songs, […]


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