Casting our hot–concert net wide, we’ve discovered that Elvis Costello, always one of the most unpredictable of rock ‘n’ roll performers, has a date at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center July 18.
This is a special tour, even by Costello standards, because it features the return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, a tool the wily Englishman first introduced in the mid 1980s – but hasn’t used since.
Dozens of song titles, spanning Elvis’ 30–year–plus career, are mounted – using alternating yellow and orange stripes – on a giant, Wheel of Fortune–type spinning wheel. As master of ceremonies Napoleon Dynamite, the affable Mr. C invites members of the audience onstage to turn the wheel. “Round and round and round she goes,” he’ll say, “and where she stops, nobody knows.”
Eventually, of course, the wheel does stop turning, and whatever title it lands on – be it “Radio Radio,” “Watching the Detectives,” “Veronica,” “Accidents Will Happen” et al – he and his crackerjack band play it live on the spot.
I’ve read a bunch of concert reviews, and although each show is different, Costello has been known to nudge the wheel along a bit so that it lands on the next title, when it suits him.
The song titles are apparently switched around for each show, and audiences have been treated to quite the cornucopia of great tunes, from the hidden R&B gems of Get Happy!! to the tunes he co–wrote with Burt Bacharach or Paul McCartney.
The covers are always different, too – in Los Angeles, Costello and the band (which includes his longtime piano–playing partner Steve Naive) played the Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
In New York, the wheel demanded Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” Wings’ “Letting Go,” and “Substitute” by the Who.
The stage is set up like a seedy Vegas lounge, and the people who spin the wheel are invited to stay onstage and listen to their tune while sitting at a cocktail table with a big martini. The back of the stage is a giant TV screen full of static.
At Stage Right, there’s a huge, neon “cage” with a gyrating go–go dancer inside. She invites said wheel–spinners to step into the cage and dance a few rounds with her.
Costello has been delighting in defied expectations since the old days. When I saw him and the Attractions (the original band, with Naive) in 1982, they opened with “Accidents” – a venerable crowd pleaser.
I saw the show again the very next night, in a different city, and when the lights first came up they played a blistering, twisted version of Leon Payne’s blood–curdling “Psycho” (“You think I’m psycho, don’t you mama/Mama, why don’t you get up?”) and before the last note had begun to fade launched into “Accidents,” double–time.
He never said a word the entire time. The entire audience, including yours truly, was stunned. And the rest of the concert was identical to the night before.
Tickets are $49.50, $59.50 and $69.50 at coliseumpac.com.