Elvis Costello & The Imposters
The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook!!!
"Get a hold of it, Brian, and spin it, and don't let the fact that these people's happiness in the next five minutes is completely in your hands. Spin that wheel!"
So says Elvis Costello to an audience volunteer who has been ushered to the stage for a crack at the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, a wheel of fortune for the post-New Wave generation — and a magnificent stage prop that ignited in 2011 one of the most courageously fun rock tours since the last time Costello took this traveling pop carnival on the road 25 years ago.
Hence the title, The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook!!!, a new CD/DVD set that presents Costello and his long-running band, the Imposters (the same lineup as the Attractions but with bassist Davey Faragher replacing Bruce Thomas), in onstage action.
This is a riot of a live album that displays Costello with all of his pop rambunctiousness intact. Just hear the way he and the Imposters rip through the show-opening I Hope You're Happy Now (whose hullabaloo backbeat is one of Songbook's most immediate delights), Nick Lowe's Rockpile-era nugget Heart of the City, Mystery Dance and Radio Radio in rapid succession. This is the sound of Costello in pure rock 'n' roll splendor, channeling the punkish charge of his past into a wholly new brand of combustible dance-pop that is in no way retro.
But the real party atmosphere of Songbook emerges on the DVD, where we glimpse the visual fun of the tour. The stage has a go-go cage at stage right and the big wheel at stage left. A hostess named Katerina picks contestants from the audience, the wheel spins, and Costello merrily ad-libs as his carnival barker alter-ego, Napoleon Dynamite (sorry, geeky-grunge film hounds, the singer co-opted the name more than 15 years before the movie came out).
Sadly, the CD and the DVD have running times that are only half the length of Costello's stage shows on the tour. But compensation comes in the form of differing set lists that provide exclusives for the two discs, such as a regal solo version of Slow Drag With Josephine ("rock and roll like I imagined it to be in 1921") for the DVD and a volcanic Lipstick Vogue on the CD, with keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas in full vigor. Luckily, both discs boast an incinerating reading of I Want You and a patient, pop-soul cover of the Rolling Stones' Out of Time.
Part vaudeville, part post-punk sideshow, Songbook is a living concert snapshot of a master pop stylist relishing the spotlight but letting his audience in on the fun.
Walter Tunis, contributing music writer