You can have it all in music. Being great and successful are not mutually exclusive. Elvis Costello & The Imposters proved this and more at a packed Liverpool Empire last night.
The Birkenhead bard brought his Spectacular Spinning Songbook across the Atlantic and treated his adopted hometown to a night of hits, horsing around and high art.
The concert is a return to Costello’s late 80s concept of inviting members of the audience on-stage to spin a giant wheel to decide what the band play next.
The stage is dressed up with vaudevillian props and the singer is on double duty for most of the night, moonlighting as cheesy MC Napoleon Dynamite and keeping the show moving, as his tight-as-a-pair-of-skinny-jeans band groove on Booker T & The MG’s hits (a nice touch, following the death of legendary Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn).
It’s a risky concept towards the set list, but ‘the house’ (Costello never loses control) isn’t above giving the wheel a nudge towards a hit or three as the night moves on. They were all there and delivered viciously and at breakneck speed: Oliver’s Army, Accidents Will Happen, Watching The Detectives and (I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea all sounded as fresh as the day they were born.
The wheel brought a few surprises too – and we’re not just talking about the Scouse dance moves on display when Costello’s victims were placed inside a go-go dancer’s cage. A dramatic reworking of The Beatles’ Please Please Me stretched into Be My Baby; the majestic Brilliant Mistake from 1985’s King Of America got an airing and Tokyo Storm Warning raged around the Empire for close to 10 minutes.
The big lights kept coming: a venue wandering serenade of She, the full force gale of Pump It Up and the preppy Everyday I Write The Book. It was breathtaking stuff. For nearly three hours, Costello had the place in the palm of his hands.
The gig took on a for-one-night-only feel as well, when he called for his pal Ian Prowse (the songwriter responsible for Does This Train Stop On Merseyside) to duet on a melancholic take of Gerry Marsden’s Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey. It went down a storm.
The gig had it all: showbiz, songs and sizzle. And on a night when Costello was in the mood for fun, the epic Shipbuilding and a definitive take on the Thatcher-baiting Tramp The Dirt Down brought political polemics right onto the table, front and centre.
That’s the type of night it was and the kind of artist we’re talking about. He’s got the front, and all the talent in the world to back it up. The songs are great, the music moves you and the singing is from the top drawer. What more could you ask for?
Long live the king.
– Alan O’Hare