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April 18, 2012

Got Happy! Elvis Costello and the Imposters in Vancouver

Last week Nitrozac and I has the extreme pleasure of seeing Elvis Costello and the Imposters perform in Vancouver. The venue was the Orpheum Theatre, a gorgeously restored vaudeville house, packed to the roof with 3000 or so hipsters of all ages. The show, his Spectacular Spinning Songbook, features a 100 foot tall giant spinning wheel of songs and surprizes (well, it wasn't quite 100 feet tall as joked by Elvis, but it was exciting just the same), go-go girls, and audience participation galore.

Elvis and band (Steve Nieve on keyboards, Davey Faragher on bass and backup vocals, and Pete Thomas on drums) emerged from stage left and burst into a quick set of I Hope You're Happy Now, an awesome cover of Nick Lowe's Heart of the City, Mystery Dance, and Uncomplicated. Then it was time to bring someone up on stage to spin the wheel, to decide the next song. This part of the show is genius. For Elvis and band, it keeps the performance fresh and different every time, and for the audience, it's a chance to actually be a part of the show, and determine it's direction. It was so much fun watching people take to the stage, jumping up and down in excitement, spinning the giant wheel, and dancing in the go-go cage.

Elvis played up the vaudeville act, at times donning a top hat and heading out into the crowd himself to pick contestants. Check out this YouTube video of some of that below:

The band was rocking. Thomas on drums was solid as usual, and Faragher on bass was spectacular, especially in demanding songs like Chelsea. Steve Nieve was, of course, his usual genius with the cheesy fill-ins and gorgeous organ riffs, and magnificent on cascading keyboards in songs like King Horse. There was even a theremin in his arsenal for a touch of camp.

And Elvis himself was in great form. He belted out the hits with fury, and crooned his way to glory. I'm always pleasantly surprised at how good a guitar player Elvis is, and he proved it again and again that night. He shone in the slower numbers, especially during a very poignant Shipbuilding, and the quirky Slow Drag with Josephine. At one point Elvis stepped away from the mic, and sang un-amplified to the audience. The crowd went hear-a-pin-drop silent, and in that glorious old hall, it felt like time had reverted back to the 1920's.

Best line of the night goes to Elvis: "Some of these songs are my friends. Some of them have, frankly, betrayed me."

Elvis didn't play everything I had hoped to hear (how could he have?), but the list was impressive: Watching the Detectives, Alison, Clubland, Radio Radio, Everyday I Write The Book, Watch Your Step, New Lace Sleeves, Chuck Berry's No Particular Place to Go, and Johnny Cash’s Cry, Cry, Cry, a Rolling Stone's cover Out of Time, and of course Lowe's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.

My one complaint is that the venue's design didn't offer any kind of a dance floor. People were squirming and bopping in their seats, dying to get up and dance, but alas, there wasn't really anywhere to do that without being un-Canadianly rude to others.

After the show, I had the extreme pleasure to talk with Pete Thomas, and thanked him for the amazing show, and all the great music over the years. Pete mentioned (with a grin) how this was the first time in a long while that they had played some of these songs, and that Elvis has just sprung some of them on them in the spur of the moment. He also remarked (a little wistful) that they were one of the last of that generation of bands to still be playing live. That was a sad thought, as so much great music came out of the post-punk era. Pete thought that they probably had another ten years left in them, so that's good news, although I'm hoping for twenty more! Nitrozac and I also met Steve Nieve, another one of my musical heroes, and he very kindly signed Nitrozac's iPhone, directly with his finger, using the program Brushes. Soon a very gracious Elvis came out to sign autographs on records and CD cases. If you've ever had the pleasure of meeting him, you know how warm and generous he is. He too signed Nitrozac's iPhone, although his iPhone penmanship couldn't match Steve's!
Steve Nieve iPhone signature:

Elvis signing Nitrozac's iPhone...

Elvis's iPhone penmanship...

If you have any chance at all, be sure to catch Elvis Costello's show, it's a blast! Two and half hours of solid fun, laughter, pure pop, poignant moments, a giant wheel of songs, and everything you'd want in a mix of vaudeville and rock n' roll. And oh yeah... go-go girls!

Posted by Snaggy at April 18, 2012 09:34 AM