Elvis Costello is a legend. Full stop. What more can you say about a man who has had more classic hits than most of us have had hot dinners, with over 60 singles, thirty-odd albums in a career spanning well over thirty years.
Tonight, we’re in for a treat. And it’s at the delightful Symphony Hall. This is the Revolver tour. There is no support, the stage has a backdrop of an old TV, a ‘bar’ with drinks and stools, a circular dancing ‘cage’, a vaudeville set with a ‘the hammer of songs’ and a spectacular spinning ‘wheel of tunes’. Wow.
And just after 8pm, on they come – and a fast rip through of songs – ‘Hope You’re Happy Now’, ‘Heat of the City’ (Nick Lowe cover), ‘Mystery Dance’ and ‘Radio Radio’ a track that speeds through at a million miles an hour. All frenetically danced to in the ‘cage’ by Mother Superior of Our Lady of Perpetual Tormente – Dixie de la Fenton.
And then we get a total change of pace – Costello swaps his trilby for a showman’s top hat, cane in hand – “Good evening, my name’s Napoleon Dymanite…. sorry no dog acts in this show….. you are here to hear many, many songs…. and you will be the ones to choose them…. love (ooh from crowd)…. sex (another ooooh)…. death (laughter)… and not necessarily in that order…” He shines a spotlight on the crowd, and his lovely assistant Katja, escorts a brave soul to the stage to participate in the first spin of the ‘wheel of tunes’ – Joyce is the first audience member “these people’s enjoyment of the next five minutes is in your hands…” Tonight’s set takes from over 150 songs – it could be anything. Whilst Joyce sits on the barstool for the first, for the second she’s invited to waltz as Costello serenades her with ‘She’. ‘She’ culminates with Costello, singing with limited accompaniment slap bang in the middle of the audience in the Symphony Hall. This is Costello at his best.
Back on stage, this time with audience member Neville, for a second spin of the wheel. Costello: “Great thing about this show is we have no idea what we’re doing….” This one’s a numbers game – ‘Everything is Less than Zero.’ Spin three, with Hannah in charge, “show your enthusiasm for these spinners…. sympathy or envy…” Costello is chatty and engaging: “Tomorrow’s Sun (newspaper) headline: Rebecca is a pervert” (a first reference to the phone hacking and press storm currently going on and the news today that Rebecca Brookes being charged with perverting the course of justice) “…. Well printing half the story has never bothered them before…” A slot on Have I Got News For You may well be waiting for him. And into a song co-written with one Paul McCartney ‘So Like Candy.’
Next spin and we have Rachel and nephew Sam on stage “family show you see..” and a double spin comes up with ‘Girl’ and ‘Kings Ransom’. More songs including ‘Girl Talk.’ And we’re less than halfway through this epic set – Katja escorts John and his daughter to the stage. This time to hit the ‘hammer of songs.’ For ‘Motel Mothers’ we see Dixie back in her cage, followed up by a Chuck Berry classic “Riding along in my automobile…” ‘No Particular Place to Go’ played in a different time sync – which he played, without band, at a 2012 Award ceremony in front of Chuck Berry and Keith Richards – Leonard Cohen was also there. Costello is on the move again, walking round the auditorium, and taking time to sit within the audience and sing.
Costello: “Half the time we don’t know what songs are on there …(referring to the wheel) …. The other night it was all Slade….” The (un)fortunate (depending on how you look at it) pulled up on stage, don’t get to escape that easily – either seated at the ‘bar’ or given opportunity to strut their stuff in Dixie’s ‘cage.’ And another one, Vicky, spins the wheel and gets ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and classic Costello tracks to accompany that theme.
Then to finish this part of set a gothic track – ‘I Want You’ – the stage shrouded in red light, big sing, with harpsichord sound, and screaming vocals at the end.
And, finally, a break – but not for long here’s the encore. On comes the ‘magic table’ and appearing from a case- a ukulele – and we’re into a couple of ‘Josephine’ tracks – ‘Who’s the Meanest Girl in Town, Josephine’ and ‘ A Slow Drag with Josephine…..and following an acoustic period – it’s still going, tracks including ‘Oliver’s Army’, ‘Watching the Detectives’ and another standout of the night ‘Shipbuilding’. Self spinning his wheel of tunes – he stops it at the classic ‘Chelsea’ and following the intro to his band of Imposters, we’re into the finale – ‘Peace Love and Understanding’.
Nigh on a three hour set, this was one the audience watched, seated, memorized by so many songs, Costello’s friendly and quirky and entertaining anecdotes, the amount that was going on, and of course taking in his true lyrical prowess that is very much Costello’s own. To give a set list would be wrong – every night is different, the potential song list way too long, and there’s treats that pop up when you least expect it – so as per the way the entire night runs, I’ll leave it a surprise. For me Costello is at his best when singing alone, or with low key band – it was ‘She’ and Shipbuilding’ that were the standouts. And you sat, and listened to all the words.
This set was for the fans, and to celebrate a massive back catalogue that is literally full of surprises. A night to absorb rather than party – but truly impressive. Catch the vaudeville wheel of songs if you can – it’s worth the spin. And you can check it out on his rather impressive website www.elviscostello.com – and play the game at home!
Review by: Zyllah Moranne-Brown
Photos by : John Bentley