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Review: Elvis Costello's blazing night in Toronto


To a theatre full of people who adored him, Elvis Costello reflected their good taste and justified their fandom. The big, illuminated and colourful wheel that dominated stage right was the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, a gaudy gyrating résumé for the amazing singing Elvis. "Round and round it goes," he said like a dandy carnival barker more than once, "where it stops, nobody knows."

One could say the same thing about Costello, an untiring artist whose remarkableness and charm were in plain sight and pleasing earshot for two hours and more. It was a merry, rocking event, enjoyed by the Cole Porter-loving post-punk onstage and surely everyone else in the building – with non-stop highlights.

I Hope You're Happy Now, Heart of the City, Mystery Dance, Uncomplicated and Radio Radio Offered with no breaks (other than a "1-2-3-4") between them, the first numbers were something of a sprint to the starting line. The tempo was uniformly upbeat, the organ sounds were cheesy, a booted booty-shaker go-goed in a cage and the three-piece Imposters raced, rumbled and rolled. On his various keyboards and theremin, Steve Nieve was busier than a one-eyed mole-whacker.

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Everyday I Write the Book Finally a breather, as Costello, 56, donned a top hat, picked up a cane and introduced himself as Napoleon Dynamite. A snazzy lady audience-wrangler brought up the night's first wheel-spinner from the crowd; her modest twirl landed on this 1983 hit done in a slightly funky fashion, with Costello's Fender Telecaster making scratchy, trebly noises.

Turpentine A percussive track from 2008's curiously titled Momofuku had audience-member Mary in the go-go cage shaking a pair of maracas and other things with grace and confidence. All the while, wheel-whirlers who gave their names as Allison and Gord enjoyed a cocktail at the onstage "Society Lounge."

Leave My Kitten Alone Little Willie John's rockabilly R&B classic was done as you would imagine the Beatles did it in Hamburg (except for the reedy organ bit, of course).

Alison A moving number, with Costello's distinctive voice breaking affectingly. Audience members helped, their aim true too.

Tracks of My Tears/Tears of a Clown/The Wind Cries Mary/Over the Rainbow/Somewhere Alison segued into a medley of song snippets, offered seamlessly and in a melodic stream of consciousness. One would imagine the musical egghead with the fedora and spectacles could have stretched this out for a hundred tunes, no sweat.

A Slow Drag with Josephine From 2010's National Ransom, "rock 'n' roll, like I imagine it in 1856," explained Costello, who whistled, strummed an acoustic and rhymed "adieu, my little ballyhoo" with "broke my heart in two" on a bluesy parlour-room shuffle.

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding and (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea What's so funny about filmmaker Bruce McDonald and about 30 others dancing on stage? Nothing, nothing at all.

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I Hope After Pump it Up (in 6/8 time), a commendable bit of Prince's Purple Rain and the country soul of Man Out of Time, Costello left with a sparse breakup ballad. "Keep on dancing and let the music play" is a beaten man's request. An eloquent winding down, to a stunning evening.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters play the Ottawa Jazz Festival Friday and Montreal's Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, July 30.

Set List

  • I Hope You’re Happy Now
  • Heart of The City
  • Mystery Dance
  • Uncomplicated
  • Radio Radio
  • Everyday I Write The Book (Spectacular Spinning Songbook)
  • Joanna
  • I Still Have That Other Girl
  • Turpentine (spin)
  • Long Honeymoon (spin)
  • I Want You (spin)
  • Beyond Belief
  • Big Tears
  • Shabby Doll
  • Accidents Will Happen (spin)
  • Leave My Kitten Alone
  • Living In Paradise (spin)
  • Spooky Girlfriend (spin, “girl jackpot”)
  • Party Girl
  • Girls Talk
  • Girl
  • Alison
  • Tracks Of My Tears/Tears of a Clown/ The Wind Cries Mary/Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Somewhere
  • Stations of the Cross
  • Shipbuilding


  • A Slow Drag With Josephine
  • For More Tears


  • Earthbound (spin)
  • (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding (request)
  • (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea
  • Waiting For The End of The World
  • I Can Only Give You Everything
  • Pump It Up/Purple Rain
  • Man Out Of Time
  • I Hope

Elvis Costello and the Imposters

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  • at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
  • in Toronto on Thursday
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