Elvis Costello and the Imposters
At the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver on Tuesday
Embracing the cornball spirit deep in his heart, Elvis Costello brought a splash of old vaudeville to Vancouver on Tuesday, with a giant wheel of fortune, a go-go dancing cage and a string of anecdotes that namedropped everyone from Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry to Barney, that annoying purple dinosaur.
Costello couldn’t have looked more comfortable bouncing though his back catalogue with the able assistance of his long-time crew, the Imposters (Steve Nieve, Davey Faragher and Pete Thomas) as he kicked off his Spectacular Spinning Songbook tour on his adopted home ground.
Taking interactivity back to its music-hall origins, Costello – and a demurely burlesque assistant – invited audience members onto the stage to spin the wheel and thus decide the next song the band would play. A nifty way to keep himself on his musical toes, the random set added a definite collaborative frisson to the evening, with the room becoming increasingly invested in where the wheel would stop.
Of course, Costello plays by his own rules and regularly diverted off on a musical tangent to throw in as many extra tracks he felt like performing as he could. (This was a hearty set with no opener that broke the two-and-a-half-hour marker with ease.) “Some of these songs are my friends,” he said, gazing up at the flashing wheel. “Some of them have, frankly, betrayed me.”
But it would be hard to pick the duds on this night’s evidence: Clubland, Chelsea, Watching the Detectives, Alison, New Lace Sleeves, Everyday I Write the Book. And then there were the covers: Berry’s No Particular Place to Go, Cash’s Cry, Cry, Cry, not to mention bursts of Tears of a Clown and Tracks of My Tears.
Costello can rock with the best of them – and on Tuesday he was no less fully charged than one would expect – but it’s when he dials it down for the ballads that the true beauty of his voice and the sincerity of his passion are laid bare.
A heartbreaking rendition of his anti-Falklands War ode Shipbuilding, for instance, was made more poignant with the backdrop of current events revisiting the islands’ sovereignty, while an acoustic interlude of songs from the T-Bone-Burnett-produced 2010 album National Ransom was captivating.
Ever the showman, Costello drew the night to a close by walking through the rows of seats to drag wife Diana Krall to the stage to spin for the final song. Even that – King’s Ransom – wasn’t the end, however, as he couldn’t resist launching into Pump It Up before persuading Krall to jam on the keyboards for (What’s so Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.
The Brits in the audience were tickled even further: After the house lights went up, Bring Me Sunshine by beloved U.K. comedy duo Morecambe and Wise played us out into the street. Now that’s entertainment.