On last year's National Ransom, Elvis Costello took on the American financial crisis — a crisis from which even rock stars aren't immune. You know, an economy shitty enough to make a mere memory of disposable income — even for Baby Boomers and the rockers they love — is really a drag for the global concert industry.
Today, music legends of varying vintages are forced to find new angles to sell the good, ol' fashioned hits-rehash attempt — perhaps that explains recent when-pigs-fly reunions like Big Audio Dynamite, Buffalo Springfield, The Cars or Public Image Ltd., along with inevitable ones ... like The Monkees. Tough times have also paved the way for the seemingly permanent trend of road-worn rock legends taking to the road with dead-eyed, perfunctory performances of their seminal albums in full.
But we can expect something a little more challenging, not to mention better, from Elvis Costello — a performer who's built a curveball-laden career on proving that his aim to bite the hand that feeds him is true. Understanding that the audience who has followed him through a topsy-turvy three decades of genre exercises and collaborations isn't one to settle for a show devoid of spontaneity, Costello has decided on a different way to put asses in the seats: by resurrecting his 1986 "Costello Sings Again" tour as this year's "Revolver" tour.
Taking on a game-show format of sorts — with Costello playing host, much the way he does on his Sundance Channel variety show Spectacle — the show is centered around the singer's Spinning Songbook, a multicolored wheel of spectacular catalog-classic and thematic fortune. Set onstage alongside backing band The Imposters, the spinning wheel — which boasts 40-plus song options — is spun by lucky fans throughout the night, effectively determining each particular show's set list on the spot. It's pretty satisfying, as far as gimmicks go.
At press time, the tour — which kicked off in May — has seen Costello & Co. perform 137 different songs, ranging from obvious live staples like "Oliver's Army," "Pump It Up," and "Alison," to deeper cuts like "High Fidelity," "Human Hands," "Possession," "I Want You," "Strict Time" and more.
If a fan is not only lucky enough to get a go at spinning the wheel, but also lucky enough to have it land on a "joker," that fan gets his or her choice of song from the list. Better yet, and undoubtedly more amusing, he or she may delight the crowd by landing the wheel on one of its 13 potential "jackpots" — thematic packs of three or four songs. They have names like "Girl" (consisting of songs with "girl" in the title), "Imperial Chocolate" (consisting of songs from the Imperial Bedroom and Blood and Chocolate albums) and "I Can Sing a Rainbow" (songs with colors in the title).
Also in the mix is a top-shelf playlist of covers ranging from to The Who's "Substitute," Gram Parsons' "Wheels," Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said," Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" — Costello's version of which appeared on 1986's Americana effort King of America — and Prince's "Purple Rain," itself probably worth the price of admission.
By and the large, the theme that unites the options in this veritable Powerball lotto of rock is that they're all the Costello songs that ... well, rock. Many of them are favorites found on LPs like This Year's Model, Armed Forces, Trust and Get Happy!! — the singer's establishing New Wave LPs cut with ace backing band The Attractions. Costello revamped The Attractions in recent years as The Imposters — changing up a member and turning out killer Aughts efforts like When I Was Cruel, The Delivery Man and Momofuku — albums that will also get fair representation at this gig.
Despite their 2003 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with Costello, The Attractions (and their Imposters) consist of some of rock's most unsung sidemen. In addition to working with Costello, drummer Pete Thomas has also pounded the skins for artists such as Squeeze, Johnny Cash, Sheryl Crow, Neil Finn, Elliott Smith and Randy Newman, to name a few. Keyboardist Steve Nieve has tickled the ivories for Nick Lowe, Madness, Marc Ribot and more. And before bassist Davey Faragher played imposter to departed Attractions low-ender Bruce Thomas, he served at the pleasure of artists like Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven, John Hiatt and Dusty Springfield. While The Attractions' punk-fueled fury and careening musical attack still make their way into breakneck stompers like "Lipstick Vogue" and "Mystery Dance" when taken on by The Imposters, this incarnation of the band adds the nuanced, classed-up groove and tasteful sonic backdrop that has allowed Costello to age so gracefully as a rocker.
Since this tour has already seen guest appearances from longtime Costello-affiliated Music City mainstays like Jim Lauderdale, T Bone Burnett and Emmylou Harris, chances are Sunday night's attendees will be treated to a special appearance from an added attraction or two as Costello returns to The Ryman for the umpteenth time. In an interview with the Scene last year, Costello proclaimed the famed auditorium his favorite venue, saying, "I've had more good nights in there — more enjoyable nights playing, and some really special [shows]. ... It's just a great room to be in, it's undeniably one of the great rooms."
So, if you're a fan, get tickets for yourself and your radio sweetheart and get happy!!
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