Elvis Costello @ Symphony Hall, May 15th

Words by Victoria Perks aka ViX

I can’t remember when I was last so excited about a gig; we could be talking decades (I know, I need to get out more).

As a massive fan of both Elvis’s; with one of them no longer with us, Elvis Costello (born Declan Patrick MacManus, 25 August 1954) was top of my list of artists to see before I – or they – die.

The stage was set in a vaudeville-come-big top style, and the band kicked off with 4 in a row; opening with “I Hope You’re Happy Now”. I was.

(Costello’s band, “The Imposters”, are basically “The Attractions”; with the bassist replaced some 10 years ago. Excellent musicians, they’re a neat little 4-piece; with the greatest extravagance being a dozen guitar pedals and half a dozen guitars – all belonging to Elvis Costello.)

Then Costello turns ringmaster and introduces his “Spectacular Spinning Songbook”, a large spinning wheel full of song titles and prompts (Ed – like a Costello Wheel of Fortune); an idea revamped from a tour 25 years ago.

“These songs are like my friends, but some of them have betrayed me” he says wryly, before a showgirl picks members of the audience to take to the stage and spin the wheel, selecting a song at random.

The lucky fan then gets serenaded on stage or dances with the go-go dancer; until their 15 minutes eventually expires.

“The great thing about this show is we have absolutely no idea what we are doing”, admits Costello. Although, whilst other bands debate ‘the perfect setlist’ for hours, weeks, even months before a tour; what an ingenious way of keeping things fresh and spontaneous – after 4 decades of music-making.

Other songs that got spun included; ‘Radio’, ‘Heart of the City’, ‘She’, ‘This Year’s Girl’, ‘Girl’s Talk’, ‘Poisoned Rose’, ‘Bedlam’, ‘Brother Can You Spare A Dime?’, ‘No Particular Place To Go’, ‘Oliver’s Army’, ‘Shipbuilding’, ‘Watching The Detectives’ and ‘Chelsea’, finishing with ‘(What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?’ I don’t know Elvis, you tell us.

Costello is the host with the most, on stage and off, wandering through the audience with consummate ease. He is master of ceremonies and master of most things musical; sashaying effortlessly from crooner to cowboy, busker to punk, to whatever the mood takes him through much of his vast songbook.

And even with less than palatable vocal qualities, and at times iffy pitching, Costello delivers his lyrics in a way both beautiful and haunting.

One can forgive him the odd flat note; not only for his adventurous melodies and poignant poetic lyrics, but because when he does launch himself at those high notes, they wrench at the very heart of the listener.

My dad always advised me that when on stage, on show or on trial; one should, “Be yourself… only more so”. Well Elvis Costello is definitely himself… only more so. Long live this King.

For more information on Elvis Costello, visit www.elviscostello.com

For further gigs at the Town & Symphony Hall, visit www.thsh.co.uk