A Vivoscene Concert Review by Ben Bengtson
On April 10th Elvis Costello brought his spectacular spinning songbook show to the Orpheum in Vancouver, British, Columbia, playing in front of an excited crowd of grey(ish) haired fans. Backed by his band, The Imposters, Costello and co played a thrilling two and a half hour set that touched on multiple eras and genres of the artist’s eclectic career.
The concert was conceptual, based on Costello’s gigantic and colourful “wheel of fortune” that fans were invited to spin with the hopes of landing on a choice song. After opening the concert with four preplanned rockers (“I Hope You’re Happy Now”, “Heart of the City”, “Mystery Dance”, and “Uncomplicated”), the first of several fans came onstage to give the while a spin. With the possibility of landing on any number of songs from Costello’s vast catalogue, the excitement was always high when someone (usually a woman) went up for a spin, especially when the likelihood of landing on classics such as “Oliver’s Army” or “Alison” was just as probable as landing on more obscure tracks like “Strict Time” from Trust (1981).
The spinning wheel created a casual and intimate setting for the evening, drawing the crowd into a concert that was as spontaneous and impromptu for Costello as it was for the crowd. It was consistently impressive to watch Costello and his very skilled band (long time keyboardist and friend Steve Nieve, veteran drummer Pete Thomas and bassist Davey Faragher) transition effortlessly from song to song, whether it was a ballad, rocker, or acoustic number. While the wheel assured fans they’d enjoy a steady stream of quality tunes, the randomness of it had the potential to make things static or obscure, especially when the wheel kept landing on less popular numbers from National Ransom (2010) or tracks like “Five Gears in Reverse” or “King Horse” from Get Happy!! (1980).
Luckily for us, Costello knew how to keep things flowing and when he felt that the set was lagging (and the audience’s energy waning) he had no objection “helping” the wheel land where we needed it to go. And it was a good thing too: with an evening based on chance, you never know when you’re going to get to hear fan favourites like “Pump It Up”, “Radio Radio”, or “(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace Love and Understanding”. Though as fortune (and a little intervention) would have it, we did indeed get to see these classics performed – and with extreme gusto too!
Although the extravagant and colourful stage conceivably bordered on campy (and the dancing burlesque women were a strange production choice), the concert never felt overly theatrical or contrived. Costello is all about the music and this shone through above all else as the night progressed. An artist as unpretentious as Costello knows that he is part of an entire musical tradition that precedes him. That’s why he made sure to pay homage to his rock and roll forbearers, covering Johnny Cash’s “Cry Cry Cry” and Chuck Berry‘s “No Particular Place to Go” with extreme devotion, always paying attention to the specialness of the genre and representing it with interest and respect.
While the sound quality and energy was lacking when the concert began, Costello and the Imposters were in full form by the time they got to “Watching the Detectives” a few songs in. At this point though, the audience was firmly focused on “watching the Costello”, and the concert continued in this fixated and dazzling manner for the rest of the evening.