Phew! Three weeks gone is a long time! Unfortunately, I had to skip a lunch hour for the last three weeks, and the blog now has cobwebs. Even so, there’s no shortage of topics to yammer on about since so much has happened in that time I hope that I can just remember it all! First up: Elvis Costello!
I was an Elvis fan from the early days when tracks from his first album reached my ears. Unfortunately, the first time I managed to see him and The Attraction in concert was on the supremely unedifying “Goodbye Cruel World” tour in 1984! I only just found out recently that he had previously appeared in my cowtown a scant two years earlier behind his Imperial Bedroom opus with Talk Talk [?!] opening. That would have been infinitely preferable to what was delivered that evening in 1984, but for some reason, the news passed me by completely at the time.
When I next saw Elvis it was with keyboardist Steve Nieve for accompaniment on the Lonely World Tour in 1999. Though I hadn’t made it a point to buy his latest album since 1986’s “Blood + Chocolate,” what was delivered that evening was simply stunning arrangements of material I largely had no enthusiasm for on disc. We were floored by the show and EC would from that point on be a must see event. Flash forward a dozen years and we finally got the chance to see him again. Better still, he had resurrected the infamous Spinning Songbook concept from his 1986 tour. Elvis and band would be accompanied by a spinning wheel with song titles on stage and attendants would be encouraged to spin to select the songs played. Genius! We immediately purchased tickets in March and waited.
Elvis’ website then listed the Revolver Tour, as it was dubbed, as continuing through June with our July date not including a wheel show. I was crestfallen until a few days prior when the local press publicized the show complete with wheel. I started rubbing that prayer cloth pretty hard and when my party arrived at the venue the night of the show, we were greeted by the purest onstage spectacle of this business called show!
There was no opening act. Just two and three quarter hours of song after song, punctuated by the appearances of the spinners, as plucked from the audience by EC’s glamourous accomplice, Katarina Valentina Valentine. The Imposters were EC’s trusty looooong time sidemen Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas of The Attractions as abetted on bass and backing vocals by Davey Faragher. Terpsichorean artiste Dixie De La Fontaine provided occasional go-go dancing in the onstage cage when audience spinners weren’t shaking their tailfeathers instead. The wheel can be previewed here, but the ante was upped from its earlier incarnation. Instead of eight years of song titles, Elvis now had over three times as many years to draw from, so some spaces on the wheel were jokers and wildcards, while others were theme-based, which could trigger a series of thematically connected songs from his vast songbook [colors, girls, time, etc.].
It wasn’t his songs along that made appearances. Some spaces on the wheel were covers – Bob Dylan’s This Wheel’s On Fire” [how apropos!] was the first random selection of the evening following a high energy “overture” selection of classics and surprises. In addition, select covers also appeared in the thematic spaces on the wheel. The Rolling Stones “Out Of Time” was part of this evening’s “time” sequence, for example. There was even a space [Joanna – rhymes with “pianna”] that allowed Steve Nieve to pick a song for solo keyboard accompaniment as a throwback to the classic Costello + Nieve shows. In addition there was a carny striker pole where audience members swung a hammer to knock the bell ringer up through three different thematic categories, all of which triggered micro-sets of thematically related songs. No matter how you sliced it, there was a vast amount of material at the band’s disposal. They must have rehearsed 60-70 songs at least which could be played in numerous combinations! The band also took the occasion to play impromptu selections of whatever they wanted to in between wheel songs so that everything anyone could ever want to hear was just a spin away. Much, much more than your money’s worth – guaranteed!
The set nominally ended after “Pump It Up,” by which time the audience were on their feet. The band departed for a scant two minutes before returning for the “encore” which was another hour of songs. Asheville was gifted with a special guest who was in town working on another of his famous film soundtracks. T-Bone Burnett joined the Imposters on stage for a couple of classic country/blues covers. Burnett’s roots with Costello go back to Costello’s band The Confederates and the subsequent “King Of America” album. The lanky Burnett made for an imposing presence on stage so we had no trouble identifying him the next day as he arrived at our selected lunchtime restaurant for some insanely wonderful Spanish tapas at Curate.
Striding; even dancing, confidently through it all with a carny barker’s aplomb was the evening’s host, Napoleon Dynamite. Resplendent in a variety of suits, hats and ever so loquacious with a witty quip. Thirty three and a third years in this business called show has honed the artist’s innate tack sharp wit to near-inhuman levels of keenness. What it also did to his and his cohorts musical ability was beyond the pale. Bottom line [mark II] – you may never see as transcendent an Elvis Costello experience as what he is taking great pains to deliver to his audience this summer. Miss this at your peril if he’s coming within 200 miles of your town! Chances are he won’t be resurrecting the wheel in another 25 years – at the age of 80. Setlist follows courtesy of elviscostello.com. Wheel songs in red. Band picks in blue. Theme packs in green. Hammer songs in gold.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters
July 19th , 2011
Overture – featuring the former Mother Superior of Our Lady of Perpetual Torment, Dixie De La Fontaine
I Hope You’re Happy Now
Heart Of The City
The Spectacular Spinning Songbook
This Wheel’s On Fire/The River In Reverse/On Your Way Down/I’ll Take Care Of You/This Wheel’s On Fire – SPIN 1
Joker – SPIN 2
Waiting For The End Of The World/I Can Only Give You Everything – IMPROMPTU
I Want You – SPIN 3
“Joanna” Jackpot – SPIN 4
Talking In The Dark
Bedlam – SPIN 5
Episode Of Blonde – SPIN 6
“Girl” Jackpot – SPIN 7
This Year’s Girl
Less Than Zero – IMPROMPTU
The Hammer Of Songs – Thor’s Swing
Pump It Up – “Song Of Sneer”
A Slow Drag With Josephine
Sulphur To Sugarcane
The Wild Side Of Life – with T Bone Burnett and The Imposters
Don’t Lie To Me – with T Bone Burnett and The Imposters
The Spectacular Spinning Songbook
Watching The Detectives/Help Me – IMPROMPTU
“Time” Jackpot – SPIN 8
Man Out Of Time
Out Of Time [The Rolling Stones]
Chelsea – IMPROMPTU
The Hammer Of Songs
Alison – “Ladies Excuse Me”
Peace, Love And Understanding/Substitute [The Who]/Peace, Love And Understanding
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