Ask any of the innumerable Elvis Costello fanatics out there what they love best about the British singer/songwriter/actor, and you're guaranteed to be met with a vast array of responses. Is it his wit? His charm? His voice? His sense of humor? Regardless of what it is that draws so many devout fans to worship at his altar, all in attendance at Costello's astounding concert on Tuesday night were no doubt more that satisfied with his top-notch performance. The at-capacity crowd of 2,012 that packed Ruth Eckerd Hall for Elvis's make-up concert (this postponed show was originally slated for last September) were eager and anxious for this night to arrive and boy, was it worth the wait. [Text by Gabe, soundboard photos Tracy.]
Currently traveling on the "Spectacular Spinning Songbook" tour, Elvis and backing band The Imposters treated the raucous crowd to a rock concert unlike any other they'd probably ever seen. A massive upright roulette wheel that boasted song titles and clever phrases in place of numbers flanked the stage and served as the inanimate dictator of the totally unplanned setlist for the evening. Part circus barker, part vaudevillian jester, Costello introduced himself as "Napoleon Dynamite" (the pseudonym he's listed under on his fine 1986 album Blood & Chocolate) at the start of the show. Donning a sporty hat and full-on vested suit, Costello looked the part of the slick shyster who might dupe you in a sketchy shell game, but the only thing he had up his sleeve on Tuesday night was keeping his audience on edge to see what he'd pull out of his enormous catalog.
Assisted by random fans who were asked to come onstage to spin the wheel and therefore determine what he and the band would play next, Costello made sure to joke and jest with the unwitting guests who were lucky enough to be part of the show. After their spin, each of the half-dozen or so who were escorted on stage throughout the night were also invited to either have a seat at a mock bar that was set up at the end of keyboard wizard Steve Nieve's bank of instruments, or enter a 1960's style go-go dance cage to shake and shimmy throughout the songs their spin had conjured. Each stage guest seemed to be having the time of their lives and who could blame them? The mood of the night was one of high spirits and unabashed joy, and Elvis certainly promoted those vibes to the fullest.
Opening the night with the high-energy "I Hope You're Happy Now" and then immediately launching into another breakneck rocker, "Heart of the City" (borrowed from the catalog of his mentor and one-time producer Nick Lowe) got things off to a rousing start. The crowd who, for the most part, looked the right age to have been familiar with Costello's work since his bursting on the scene in 1977, responded with screams, hollers and thundering applause as Elvis then went back to his landmark debut album My Aim Is True for the next two selections, "Miracle Man" and "Mystery Dance." Always one to mix newer material with past hits and obscurities along with the occasional cover or two, Elvis Costello is an artist who can never be accused of going through the motions or relying on stale setlists; he thrives on the spontaneity of his mood or in the case of this tour, on that of the unpredictable spinning wheel.
A personal highlight included the wheel-dictated mini-set featuring his 1980 masterpiece Get Happy!! . Four songs in a row from the brilliant soul/pop/country-influenced long player sounded as fresh and infectious as ever. Vocally, Costello has matured tremendously and has gained a lot more confidence since that record was released more than 30 years ago, which only adds another layer of oomph and swagger to the material. A Motown-influenced soul shaker like "High Fidelity" gains a whole new sense of urgency coming from the 2012 model of the more accomplished Costello. Hearing an artist who's been at it as long as Elvis has dig this far back into his catalog and unleash long-lost nuggets like these is enough to make his long-time followers proud. While he obviously can't get to everything one might want to hear, there's certainly no room for complaints in the department of setlist diversity.
Hit singles were represented ("Alison," "Everyday I Write The Book") as eagerly and as enthusiastically as the deep cuts were ("5ive Gears in Reverse," "Shipbuilding"). Songs the casual fans might have been happiest to hear, "Pump It Up" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" (another Nick Lowe-penned tune) drew the mightiest roars and sounded just as energetic as ever.
On a personal note, I attended my first Elvis Costello concert at the age of 14. Incidentally, that show still ranks as my favorite concert I've ever witnessed by any artist. The enormous length of that first show and the unscripted and spontaneous setlist Costello played around with set the performance standard for me all those years ago. Three decades later, Elvis is still toying with setlists, playing marathon shows and elating the crowds that come see him night after night. Back then, I thought of Elvis Costello as a consummate performer, singer, entertainer and a hell of a showman. And based on Tuesday night's show (which clocked in at a little more than 2-and-1/2 hours), I still whole-heartedly feel that, and I'm sure everyone else in attendance certainly would agree. Some things never change.
I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart of the City
I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down
5ive Gears In Reverse
Less Than Zero
Secondary Modern / Watch Your Step
One Bell Ringing
Watching the Detectives / Help Me
I Want You
Everyday I Write the Book
Slow Drag With Josephine
Jimmie Standing in the Rain
Hot Burrito #1
Alison / Wind Cries Mary / Somewhere Over the Rainbow / Somewhere
Uncomplicated / Shotgun
(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?
Pump It Up
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.