Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pump It Up

I saw Elvis Costello last monday.

That statement in and of itself expresses a certain awesomeness. This was an evening in the making. I looked at the original tour list and the closest he was coming to me was either New Jersey or Chicago. I shrugged it off and thought, "next time round." Then one morning, I woke up, checked my facebook newsfeed and saw that the tour dates had been updated. Elvis was coming to Cincinnati. I had a little fanboy squeal. It would have been louder but my roommate was still asleep. I wanted to get tickets then and there for the front row but I was waiting for a friend, to see if she wanted to go. I got tickets when they opened up to the general public. I got far right seating but they were still floor seating and incredibly close to him. I spent a hundred and twenty dollars on those tickets. I think that's the best money I ever spent. I had some trouble finding someone who was free on monday night and who appreciated Elvis Costello as much as I do. Luckily, my friend Casey Apple Snipes, was available.

What made this concert and this tour special was that Costello was reviving "The Spectacular Spinning Songbook." "The Spectacular Spinning Songbook" is a large wheel with forty different songs with a few jackpot spins that had particular themes to them, such as "Girl," "Time," "Happy," and "I Can Sing A Rainbow," all of which are mini setlists of Costello's songs and even some unexpected covers. Now, I really wanted to be one of the people from the audience who got chosen to spin the wheel, I even made a large sign saying "Pick This Ginger To Spin." Sadly, I couldn't bring it in and I forgot it when I left the theater. But I still had a tremendous amount of fun.

The set itself was incredibly retro with the Technicolor tv backdrop, the society lounge to the side, and the "Hostage of Fortune Go-Go Cage," complete with Go-go dancer: Her Royal Highness, Jacinta Trimble, The Duchess of Lexington. Costello opened with one of my favorite songs of his, "I Hope You're Happy Now." He then tour into a cover of Nick Lowe's "Heart of the City." Lowe was Costello's producer for his first five albums and provided him with one of his most famous songs "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding," so it was nice hearing Costello's take on another one of Lowe's songs. He then broke into "Mystery Dance," and another personal favorite "Radio Radio." From there, the format changed when Costello put on a top hat and donned a cane and proclaimed himself "Napoleon Dynamite," Emcee of "The Spectacular Spinning Songbook."

From there, his lovely assistant, whose name escapes me began inviting people from the audience up to spin the enormous wheel. For most of the spins, Costello abided what the wheel read. However, if someone was really gunning for a song or the wheel hit a repeat, Costello edged the wheel on, coyly saying, "Didn't you know this show was rigged?" Elvis went far and wide in the theater in terms of who he picked to spin the wheel. During "Long Honeymoon" he actually went out into the audience and even up into the balcony; there he picked the next contestant to spin the wheel. Her spin was the first "rigged" one as she was gaming for "Allison." The Beloved Entertainer delivered. One of the most touching spins was when the father of the Go-go dancer, called "The Grand Duke of Lexington," was selected. He hit the "Girl" jackpot and watched his daughter dance "This Year's Girl" in the Go-Go Cage, but then got to sit right beside her during Costello's cover of The Beatles' "Girl." After a few more requests and one final spin, hitting the "Time" jackpot, where he broke into "Clowntime is Over," "Strict Time," and an amazing cover of The Stones' "Out of Time," he and the band left stage and the stage lights went dim. This could have been the end of the show.

Thankfully, it wasn't. Costello had gone backstage and changed jackets and hat to look more like a vaudevillian. With checkered vest and straw hat, Napoleon Dynamite picked up his acoustic guitar and played two songs from his most recent album, "National Ransom." The first one was very upbeat and springy. "Slow Drag with Josephine" was one of my favorite songs from that album and it translates incredibly well to stage. Costello went on a two minute long whistle solo, which I didn't think was possible but accentuated the folksy air of the song. The second song, "Jimmy Standing in the Rain," was introduced in a way that made it seem like one of the requested songs of the evening, "God's Comic." Was it as good as "God's Comic," no, but Costello still performed the hell out of that song with its downbeat feel and melancholic lyrics. Once again, the show seemed over, as he left the stage. The audience roared and cheered for him to come back; come back he did. With the band and now gold jacket and hat, which he claimed were on loan from his good friend, Donald Trump. He offered one last spin and we got to hear "Watching the Detectives," the reggae closer from his debut album leading immediately into a barn-burning from his sophomore album, "Lipstick Vogue." Once again, Costello and band left the stage and the audience begged for more. He came back to deliver the finale with a cover of The Who's "Substitute," his very own "Pump It Up," and finally ended with his most famous cover "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." That song, nor its performance feels aged or out of date, and that's what I love about Costello.

Elvis Costello is 56 years old and he still performs with the same energy and charisma he did when he debuted at 22. If anything, he's learned so much about how to stir up a crowd and feed off of them, hence the three encores. After the opening numbers, Costello said he still had the "Windy City" in his voice from when he performed in Chicago a couple days before and that he was under doctor's orders to keep it short. Two and a half hours is Elvis's Costello's idea of keeping it short. What makes this show impressive was he was diagnosed with bronchitis after the Chicago show and lost his voice entirely after the Cincinnati show. It was so bad, he had to cancel his New Jersey show the Wednesday after. You could not tell at all, save for one moment in "Jimmy Standing in the Rain," that his voice was at all under the weather.

I left the Taft Theatre blissful. People who know me, I worry and I complain, that was nowhere to be found after that show. I left singing. I bought a shirt and a poster from that concert. My regret is that I got a medium instead of a small. However, every time I pass that concert poster in my room, I just punch the air because I still feel the awesome aftereffect of that concert. I often feel like I'm one of the few Costello fans I know. Going into that theater, seeing everyone from young teens to one old guy rocking out during "Peace, Love, and Understanding," helped me remember that Costello is so timeless, with his music and his performance abilities. I want to see him again, I know he won't make another round to Cincinnati anytime soon. Not because we were a bad audience, we were a GREAT audience, it's just it's Cincinnati and we're not a major concert stop. But trust me, that won't stop me from seeing him again in the future.
Some nice Youtube videos of the tour