Friday, April 6, 2012

The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook

I've just watched Elvis Costello and the Imposters blast through four killer tunes kicking off one of the first Revolver Tour concerts in Los Angeles and I'm can't wait to see them do the same thing live in about two weeks in Clearwater, Florida.

The opening performances and much of what went on during this May 12, 2011 show at the Wiltern Theater is expertly captured on "The Return of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook" CD/DVD released Tuesday. After opening with "I Hope You're Happy Now," Costello and the Imposters march right through to Nick Lowe's early punk classic "Heart Of The City" followed by "Mystery Dance" and one of my favorites "Radio, Radio."

After that non-stop barrage of musical adrenaline, Costello turns into Napoleon Dynamite - the stage persona he introduced during the original Spinning Songbook concerts in 1986 and not the dweeb in Jared Hess' 2004 movie. Napoleon Dynamite is the MC of sorts for each concert, who with the aid of a very pretty assistant bring audience members onto the stage to spinning a giant wheel featuring song titles and a few surprises.

Among the first to come up during this concert is Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner though Costello seems to not recognize him, ordering him "Grab it! Sir Grab it!" and give the wheel a good spin. The wheel lands on "Clubland" and the game show hijinks kick off.

The Bangles also make an appearance, just like they did in 1986 according to Costello's introductory chatter, and Suzanna Hoffs sings "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's a Doll Revolution)."  Several wheel spins follow, including one by a girl aptly named "Alison."

The DVD does a great job of showing how each show is like and unlike other concert films, it's been well-edited and never statically fixed on a single performance - and there are lots of things to see, from the Imposters to the go-go dancers and the audience dancing on the stage. 

I haven't seen the show live yet, the wheel was supposed to roll into Florida in September but was postponed to this April, but I've devoured enough set lists and bootlegs from the first leg of the tour to know that there are lots of goodies missing.

The DVD doesn't include all of the songs performed that night, including The Beatles' "Girl" and "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Next Time Around," Prince's "Purple Rain" and a surprising version of "Pump It Up." Many of the interesting performance Costello mentions in the liner notes will also probably never be officially released. Thankfully there's You Tube.

Don't get me wrong I am thankful for this collection, which captures the essence of the Spinning Songbook shows, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. During a tour where more than 100 different songs were performed, there were bound to be some that could not be featured on an official release.

And maybe that's for the better. Sometimes we are so focused on capturing things on devices and forget to make actual memories only to file the recordings somewhere where they will be seldom listened to.

I'll be going to three of Costello's Florida appearances and I'm know I will be thrilled at each of them. Will I get to spin the wheel? I hope. Will he play the songs I want to hear? maybe. Will those who see this singular concert experience have a great time? Definitely.

PS: I know this is kind of cheating. It's not the order I was aiming for on the Spinning Songbook Countdown but it's a good preview for the upcoming tour and saves me from writing about Il Sogno - Costello's sole symphony created for an Italian dance company. I'm under qualified to write about classical music and it's the only one of his works that I've not listened to all the way through.

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