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Taping of Elvis Costello’s “Spectacle” at the Apollo Theatre September 23rd, 2009: starts like fascination, ends up like a trance

Three hours later, walking to the train station after the filming of an episode of Elvis Costello’s musical talk show on Sundance Channel last night, a woman turns to her companion and says “I can’t believe Elvis was so rude to Lyle (Lovett),, he wouldn’t let him answer a question. I wanted to know why Lyle left to Nashville and Elvis didn’t let him speak.”
Costello can not interview. He is a blabbering bore who can’t listen and who must have been saved in the edit last season because he talks all over his interviewee. It was an awful performance on top of an astonishingly boring night. I have friends like that and I have learnt over time to simply say: “Stop talking now” or I’d be stuck there for an hour. Unfortunately, nobody can say that to EC and so he blabbers on and on. It’s not exactly that he isn’t interesting, discussing his father and his grandfather both of whom were musicians was a gift for we Costello fans, but Lyle Lovett had begun the subject by noting that his parents post-WWII were forced to do with their lives what they had to do with their lives so Lyle could do with his life what he wanted to do with his life. This is a fascinating, perhaps genius, take on the ethos of the baby boomers (I’ll be writing a bit more about the subject in a later post) and Costello was so fast off the mark, so quick to run off on his own thought pattern, he stomped the line into the ground. I bet it doesn’t make the final cut.

The tickets clearly stated “The doors at the Apollo open at 7p , taping begins at 745p”. So I got there at 645p. An hour and half after and I realize this was Infiniti’s idea of a joke. Why on earth would they force all these people to stand for over an hour (I bet some early birds were there at 530p) for no reason? Needless to say I was a foul mood by the time I got in.
If you have never been to a television taping it is often done essentially in real time: I’ve been to Letterman, Conan, MTV Unplugged tapings, and except for a retake due to a dropped mic here and there what you see is what you get. But Costello is being careful, he is taping triple the material he actually needs and that makes for a long night. A night that starts off excellently, EC is very cordial with the audience and with the techs surrounding him and begins the night by playing two preMy Aim Is True songs on acoustic guitar (all the songs tonight are acoustic and with no drums) . For me, it was worth the entire evening from top to bottom, to hear Costello play his country-folk little known masterpiece, a song he claims to have been inspired by his first guest of the night John Prine, “Poison Moon”. Not only have I never heard him play it live before, I’ve never heard him come close to playing it live before, Cos used the “starts like fascination, ends up like a trance” line off “Party Girl” for the first time on this song . And he follows it with the same vintage drunk beating his girlfriend as sick joke “Wave A White Flag”.
John Prine is the great American singer-songwriter, a Loudon Wainwright mid-70s contemporary and yet another “next Bob Dylan”. I understand what other singer-songwriters see in Prine though I’ve never been a big fan because he bores me a little, still I loved that early nineties stuff he did with Iris Dement who I worship. Tonight his second number “Lake Marie” is a genius story song I’ve never heard before in which he tells the story of the naming of two lakes in Wisconsin by native Americans and then ties it to a marriage failing and finally a murder before bringing the strands together:
The dogs were barking as the cars were parking
The loan sharks were sharking the narcs were narcing
Practically everyone was there
In the parking lot by the forest preserve
The police had found two bodies
Nay, naked bodies
Their faces had been horribly disfigured by some sharp object
Saw it on the news On the TV news in a black and white video
You know what blood looks like in a black and white video?
Shadows, Shadows that’s exactly what it looks like
All the love we shared between her and me was slammed
Slammed up against the banks of Old Lake Marie, Marie
We were standing
Standing by peaceful waters”
A little later Costello discusses how Prine came to write the song and Prine explains how he was visiting the lakes Elizabeth and Marie with his brother and got the number of a man who was writing about the two lakes -it is an insightful and interesting reply, unlike the rest of this deadly dull interview where Elvis won’t take Prine’s answer that he doesn’t write fiction as an answer and rambles on and on and on with Prine repeating the same reply.
As dull as it was it doesn’t compare to the two interviews that follow. Costello ridiculously calls Ray Lamontagne one of the most talented young singer-songwriters today. Young? He’s thirty-five for fucks sake. Talented? He is okay but that’s all he is. Lamontagne is the living, breathing definition of nothing all that special. Lyle Lovett is spectacularly uncomfortable and boring. A new song “Home Is Where My Horse Is” is has a great lyric (about the GIs in Iraq: “Am I worth dying for?”) but a country-blues by the number tune and the other one is musical valium.
The entire night is musical valium. The songs are tired, the audience is tired, the performers are boring and Costello seems to be having a lot of fun. His attitude to everyone is
ego free and pleasant and except for his inability to interview his three guests without launching into long stories and stepping all over their words he is a perfect host who is so happy to see you he can’t stop speaking. And he has lost some weight though the ‘tache has got to go.
Anything else? Yeah. No, Yeah Yeah Yeahs unfortunately.

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