Frank YangIf any artist has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants, it’s Elvis Costello. And indeed, he’s taken full advantage of this creative liberty over his three-and-a-half decade career; starting as the “angry young man” coming out of the British punk scene and becoming, at various points in his career, a country crooner, jazz singer and pop classicist and all points in between, to say nothing of his forays into acting and television talk show host. And unlike some who’ve transformed their personas to match each artistic endeavour, Costello has always remained Costello – same glasses, maybe a different hat (okay, there was the Mighty Like A Rose beard). As said, the man does what he wants and offers no apologies for it.
And if he wants to resurrect a tour concept from a quarter-century ago, “The Spectacular Spinning Songbook” wherein audience members choose the set list by randomly spinning a giant carnival wheel, then he’s going to do it – never mind that the original go-around with the wheel apparently didn’t go so well. Having been all of 11 at the time that went down, I obviously can’t comment on whether or not the criticisms of the tour were valid but considering that Costello’s two 1986 releases – King Of America and Blood & Chocolate – are basically my favourite of his records, so from my point of view circa ’86 he was on top of his game. And anyways, the idea of seeing Elvis for the first time in a decade or so playing songs pulled from throughout his career rather than to promote his last record National Ransom – which is fine and all, don’t get me wrong – sounded like a pretty good one. Which brings us to Thursday night at the rather posh Sony Centre For The Performing Arts.
Eschewing any support act for the evening, Costello and The Imposters – his backing band of the past decade or so which is basically The Attractions, his backing band of the past three decades with the exception of Davy Faragher replacing bassist Bruce Thomas – took the colourfully-decorated, playground-like stage shortly after eight, supported by a go-go dancer and hostess charged with selecting and escorting audience members to spin the wheel, typically attractive and well-dressed young women. Not that they were called on until a ways into the set; Costello and company set the tone themselves opening with a blistering “I Hope You’re Happy Now” (from Blood & Chocolate) and tearing through a set of classics that established that they were here to play. At that point, Costello introduced himself as Napoleon Dynamite – his alias that predates the movie by a good twenty years – and entered sideshow barker mode and the first audience member invited to take the Spinning Songbook for a whirl landed on Punch The Clock‘s “Everyday I Write The Book”, the first Costello song I ever recall hearing. Yeah, I’d say this was a good start to the night.
Offering a blow-by-blow of the more than two-and-a-half hour show would be futile, so I won’t bother; just look at the set list. In a word, the show was amazing. In a few more words, it was a joyous romp through Costello’s extensive songbook and a few others’, with covers and cribs of artists as diverse as The Beatles, Prince and Smokey Robinson peppered through the set. What it wasn’t, however, was a greatest hits set – there were hits a-plenty, yes, but still plenty of selections from Costello’s more recent, less chart-topping records, all of which served a purpose. “I Still Have That Other Girl”, from his Painted From Memory Bacharach collaboration gave him opportunity to roam the audience crooning, “Spooky Girlfriend” – leading off a block of four “girl”-themed songs thanks to a jackpot spin on the wheel – reminded that his 2001 return to form album When I Was Cruel really was a return to form and “Turpentine” off of 2008’s Momofuku allowed Costello to showcase his “little hands of concrete” on some absolutely ripping guitar solos.
Truly, every selection was some degree of highlight but as good as it all was from note one, but as you’d expect from a veteran showman, he still saved the best for last. Closing the main set with an affecting “Shipbuilding” – I guess we were lucky no one spun that one earlier on – Costello took advantage of the break to change out of his suit coat, which was by this point completely soaked through with sweat, to change into something a little more checked and kitschy and play a couple of National Ransom tunes solo and acoustic and then into some gold lame jacket to lead the Imposters back onstage for the second encore. Not done yet, no sir. The wheel was brought back into play and though the results rigged just a bit, no one was going to complain about the Armed Forces/My Aim Is True/This Year’s Model suite of songs that ensued, including the most polite, middle-aged stage invasion you ever did see. “Pump It Up” segued into an unexpected partial cover of “Purple Rain” and following a stirring “Man Out Of Time”, they closed with “I Hope” from National Ransom.
What else can be said? It was a two-hour, forty-minute tour de force performance from one of the greatest pop songwriters of the last thirty years. Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Costello.
The Toronto Sun, The Globe & Mail, Lithium, The National Post and Torontoist also have reviews of the show.
Photos: Elvis Costello & The Imposters @ The Sony Centre For The Performing Arts – June 23, 2011
MP3: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Radio Radio” (live at The El Mocambo)
Video: Elvis Costello & The Imposters – “Monkey To Man”
Video: Elvis Costello – “45”
Video: Elvis Costello – “13 Steps Lead Down”
Video: Elvis Costello – “Sulky Girl”
Video: Elvis Costello – “So Like Candy”
Video: Elvis Costello – “The Other Side Of Summer”
Video: Elvis Costello – “…This Town…”
Video: Elvis Costello – “Veronica”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “I Wanna Be Loved”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “The Only Flame In Town”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Let Them All Talk”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Everyday I Write The Book”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “You Little Fool”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Sweet Dreams”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Good Year For The Roses”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “New Lace Sleeves”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Clubland”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “New Amsterdam”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Possession”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Love For Tender”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “High Fidelity”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Accidents Will Happen”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Oliver’s Army”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?”
Video: Elvis Costello – “Radio, Radio”
Video: Elvis Costello – “Pump It Up”
Video: Elvis Costello – “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea”
So far this year, we’ve had visits from Duran Duran, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark and now… The Human League? They’re going to be in town as part of a North American tour on September 18 at The Guvernment, ostensibly in support of new album Credo but let’s be honest – you know what you want to hear.
Video: The Human League – “Don’t You Want Me”
The Fader chats with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange; his debut under that name, Coastal Grooves, is out August 8.
NPR has posted a World Cafe session with James Blake. He plays The Phoenix on September 30.
Under The Radar has details on the debut album from London’s Still Corners; Creatures Of An Hour will be out on October 11 and the first MP3 is available to grab now.
MP3: Still Corners – “Cuckoo”
Glasvegas have released a new video from Euphoric Heartbreak.
Video: Glasvegas – “Shine Like Stars”
DIY chatted with Yuck whilst at Glastonbury this weekend.
NPR checks in with Ida Maria, whose new album Katla came out very quietly at the start of the month, at least in digital form. The record is streaming on her website right now.
Stream: Ida Maria / Katla
NPR has a profile of Nick Cave, whose rendering of The Zombies’ classic “She’s Not There” with Neko Case, recorded for this season’s True Blood soundtrack, is available to stream over at KCRW.