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Oldies But Goldies: Elvis Costello Loads His Revolver In 2011

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(Here is a review from the exciting let fate choose the song tour in 2011 -a very very good one, and here I am at Beacon Theatre letting Elvis Costello impress me once again… IL)

The bridge Prince burnt?

In the mid-90s, Elvis Costello had run out his less than earth shattering Warner Bros contract, and waved adieu with a greatest misses (except for “Veronica” -we got it) album and wanted to include a cover of Prince’s “Pop Life on it.. Prince refused and man was Elvis pissed. Elvis responded with “The Bridge I Burnt” but apparently the bridge was a Phoenix because during the encore of his first rate “The Revolver Tour” set on Monday, May 23rd, 2011, Elvis sang “Purple Rain for his wife (and in-laws? nope, T-Bone Burnett who looks old enough to be).

It was a night for mending bridges, among other people, Elvis mended his with mine.

2010 was a terrible year for Elvis, capped by an abysmal set streamed on rollingstone.com and one of his worst albums, the gone and forgotten National Ransom, but 2011 began with a storming three song set opening for the Strokes, and a teach the kids a lesson how it’s done singalong with Julian on “Taken For A Fool”.

Having said that, I had serious doubts about the “Spinning Wheel” revolver tour. It seemed that

A) 40 songs on the wheel?  a touch neither nor to me

B) How do you pace a set based on chance?

And

C) He has been so far off his game for so long.

The concept is Costello resurrects his slimy Napoleon Dynamite persona and becomes the master of ceremony for the spinning wheel, replete with Gogo Dancers and mucho audience participation. The wheel is spinned, whatever song the wheel lands on, Elvis and the Imposters -otherwise known as 2/3rds of the Attractions, play it.

Costello opens with four blasts from the past taken at a breakneck speed: “Hope You’re Happy Now”, “Heart Of The City”, “Mystery Dance”, “Radio Radio”. The Imposters are doing an Attractions doing a Ramones impression and the breakneck pace works against it. I’ve seen Costello in this mode before, not bad, not great.

He follows with the first spin and lands on “Watching The Detectives” Vs “Hoover factory” -we get to choose through the cheers. Yeah, right. I was screaming for “Hoover Factory” but no no avail.

And so far the evening while fun isn’t entirely gelling. The wheel concept is just a trick he does with mirrors and with chemicals. When Elvis doesn’t like the result he simply changes it till he lands on what he wants. The second spin has him landing on songs with the word “time” in them -accidentally on purpose. First up is an over emoting “Clowntime Is Over” but that’s the last whatever of the night. A just about perfect “Strict Time” -powerful in sweep and hard in rock and true to its Bo Diddley inspiration is followed by a near equal “Man Out of Time” and then a cover of the Stones “Out of Time” so great it is life threatening. Costello joins the audience, picks out people for the wheel, and nails the vocal so well. The word to listen for on the song is “Obsolete” and it takes a certain sort of greatness to build to it, to even know that that is where the song is leading to.

A brother and sister are up at the wheel next and we get “Oliver’s Army” and the following spin Elvis fiddles some more and it is “Napoleon Solo” El gets to choose) time and what should have been the worst moment of the night. “A Slow Drag With Josephine” is terrific… doesn’t National Ransom suck on ice or something? I dunno but I know for sure this was fabulous and he follows it by going country along with a country band, Bible Code Sundays, starring his brother Rowan Macmanus (? Got that info off rolling stone)and doing an OK “American Without Tears” (why not the Twilight version?) and a stunning “Little Palaces’ with an extended ending and, haha ,first single off King of America, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”.

The pace is wonderful and exhilarating and so much so that a song I have NEVER EVER LIKED “So Like Candy” -written with McCartney for Mighty Like A Rose even works for me. On top of that… “All Grown Up” (same album if memory serves) and even that doesn’t suck.

Drummer Pete Thomas’ daughter Tennessee joins her dad on a second set of drums for a Thor’s hammer “Turpentine” and ends the Blood And Chocolate’s heavy set with “Uncomplicated”.

Alex Turner of Arctic Monkey’s joins Elvis pn the first encore, an ok “Lipstick Vogue” and then leaves while El turns to “Gloria,” “Chelsea”, “I Want You” (not another B&C -Helen Bachs’ fave by the way). Then mashes, not very succesfully, “Alison/Tracks of My Tears/Tears of A Clown/Suspicious Minds”. His  namesake cover is particularly irritating, Idda died to hear El sing El straight he performs the right lyric but to ” Alison”.The ending: a perfect “Purple Rain”, than an obvious “Pump it Up” and ” Peace Love And Understanding”.

A purely excellent two and a half hour set. I always write exactly what I believe and I have ragged on Costello for a couple of years now, but credit where it is due. He reformed the Attractions (c’mon, that’s what he REALLY did) and played an Attractions set. Just like that. And he was so good he made iffy songs sound like masterpieces.

The bridge rebuilt. A Napoleon dynamite of a show.

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