Elvis Costello & The Imposters @ State Theatre, Sydney (30/1/2013)
Note to all musicians: All setlists should be determined by spinning a massive wheel.
Reports from the Day on the Green shows have suggested that Elvis Costello & The Imposters were maybe not at the peak of their powers for their winery-based shows (word from the SA show was that the tipsy and indifferent band played a not-a-second-over 75-minute set and walked off stage) but from the second that Costello, drummer Pete Thomas, keysman Steve Nieve and bassist Davey Farragher took the State Theatre stage with a blistering ‘I Hope You’re Happy Now’ it was clear that they were in the mood to entertain. And well they should have been, since they were flanked by a bar area, a go-go cage, a strongman bell and – as alluded above – a fucking enormous wheel. Emblazoned on The Spectacular Spinning Songbook were song titles, keywords and album jackpots just waiting to be spun up by the audience members selected by their two lovely showgirl assistants.
Elvis was in full Beloved Entertainer mode, introducing himself by his Blood & Chocolate-era nom de plume Napoleon Dynamite and welcoming each of the wheel-spinning audience members on stage with game-show host charm, goading them into dancing in the go-go cage, advising them not to drink the blue drinks at the on-stage bar and even taking to the audience for a singalong version of the Stones’ ‘Out of Time’.
The thing is that, even with the wheel pulling up random songs, the set wasn’t all that different from what you’d expect from a regular Imposters show – especially once the band starting barreling to the finishing line with a bracket of hits’n’memories.
Those hoping for true obscurities got a few tastes – ‘Song with Rose’ (written for Roseanne Cash) was a standout, as was a gorgeous ‘All This Useless Beauty’ – but for the most part it was a setlist of old favourites. And that’s fine considering that it included things like ‘High Fidelity’, ‘Radio Radio’, ‘Mystery Dance’ and ‘Monkey to Man’ in the early running, with crowd pleasers like ‘Alison’, ’(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea’, ‘Accidents Will Happen’, ‘Pump it Up’ and ‘Oliver’s Army’ taking us home, followed by a single encore set that packed in ‘Watching the Detectives’ and a night-ending ’(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding’.
So yes, the wheel is a gimmick – but it’s a damn fine one, and it’s what elevated this show from good to great. Start fashioning your stage props now, heritage artists.
Related: Interview with Elvis Costello