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Concert Reviews:
Elvis Costello takes fans for a songbook spin in Royal Oak

of the Oakland Press

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2011

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ROYAL OAK -- After nearly 35 years and more than 30 album, Elvis Costello has the goods to entertain without relying on props, stunts or tricks.

But when he does employ them, it actually turns out to be that much better.

For their latest tour -- which stopped Monday night (June 20) at a sold-out Royal Oak Music Theatre -- Costello and his band, the Imposters, rolled out the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, a wheel-of-chance that he allowed fans to come on stage and turn for impromptu song selections. With 30 specific titles, three Jokers (which let fans choose whatever they wanted to hear) and seven Jackpots for thematic clusters of songs, it let the quartet play open-ended and mostly without a net through much of the two-hour and 20-minute show and proved to be as enormously entertaining as it was bold.

And thanks to Costello's veteran instincts, it was also designed to make sure plenty of favorites made their way into the set rather than just a night of obscurities, starting with an adrenalized blast that included "I Hope You're Happy Now," "Heart of the City," "Mystery Dance," "Uncomplicated" and "Pump It Up" and finishing with "Alison," "Peace, Love and Understanding" and a cover of the Who's "Substitute."

In all Costello brought 10 folks on stage to spin the wheel, allowing them to sit at a bar positioned near Steve Nieve's keyboards or to gyrate in an onstage go-go cage that also housed a dancer who was part of the entourage and, occasionally, the gowned, Vanna White-style assistant who helped Costello with the guests. Their spins resulted in performances of "Oliver's Army," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and "Black and White World," and some liberties were taken along the way with the format, too.

One spot on the wheel allowed the crowd to choose between "Watching the Detectives" and "Hoover Factory" -- the former, not surprisingly, won and received a particularly charged rendition -- while Costello and company tossed in "Hand in Hand" before the wheel selection of the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing." At another juncture Costello "spun" the wheel himself, merely moving it a couple spots to the Jackpot card for songs that mentioned color in the title, allowing the group to tuck into "Green Shirt," "(The Angles Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," a bit of Prince's "Purple Rain" and "Almost Blue," the latter one of the few quiet moments in the 31-song set.

Other highlights included an emotive "I Want You," "Doll Revolution," "So Like Candy" (one of several songs Costello's co-written with Paul McCartney), "New Lace Sleeves" and "Pills and Soap." During one of the encores, meanwhile, he dipped into his recent Americana-flavored releases for the swinging "Sulphur to Sugarcane."

As iconoclastic as he is iconic, Costello's never been one to follow any sort of rules throughout his career. On Monday in Royal Oak, he continued to do it strictly on his own terms -- which proved to be the best way indeed.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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