Elvis Costello: Creative Carnival Fantasy

May 9, 2011
By Amy Powell

A girl appears from backstage wearing white go-go boots, a pink plastic dress, and a pink bow in her impossibly shiny brunette hair. She nods to the band (already in position) and steps into a fringe-curtained pedestal esteemed the “Hostage to Fortune Go-Go Cage.” It is May 9, 2011, the second and final run of “Elvis Costello and The Imposters present ‘The Revolver Tour’” at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA.  The Revolver Tour is Costello’s first tour in twenty-five years, and fans (of all ages) are seated in anticipation for tonight’s “game-show” carnival. A drum roll builds, lights flash theatrically, and Elvis Costello takes the stage while the girl spins effortlessly inside her Go-Go cage. (Apparently, this is not her first “carnival.”)

With no set list, a slight English accent, and multiple stories to share (some involving Donald Trump), Costello is calm and poised wearing a dapper black hat and his classic black-rimmed glasses. His band, The Imposters, is colorful in clothing and rambunctious in character – the group is a mix between The Beach Boys, The Partridge Family, and the Austin Powers 1960s power and love revolution. Costello runs through a few songs to start off the show – “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” “Heart of the City,” “Strict Time,” and “Mystery Dance” – before Costello calls his assistant onstage.

His assistant, fitted tightly into a teal, yellow, and black one-piece, bell-bottom spandex suit, motions to a ten-foot wheel situated at stage left. The “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” features 40 song-titles, is color coordinated with red, yellow, and purple ribbons to categorize selections from Costello hits, rarities, and (never before covered-by-Costello) covers. The Songbook, now spinning, is lined with frantically flashing light bulbs. You can cut the crowd’s anticipation with a knife. “Bring someone up,” Costello calls to his assistant, “The fun is about to begin.”

Costello is flirty, flashy, and charismatic. He is an entertainer with dirty wit and a genuine heart. Between spins, he tells stories to excite his chosen Songbook spinners. “Now, while I play, you will sit over there, in the ‘Society Lounge.’ But be careful on those chairs, they are special, they are a gift from Donald Trump.”

Like clockwork, Costello’s assistant summons fan after fan on stage to “give The Songbook a strong spin” and reveal the next hit of tonight’s set-list. After a powerful push, spinners stand back and watch fate unfold. This time the Songbook selects, “Purple Rain,” a revised upbeat groovy jazz melody, accompanied by tight calypso reggae rhythms.

Next, two ladies are invited on stage. One offers to spin The Songbook while her friend ogles the gigantic wheel. The Songbook stops at a sparkling purple section titled, “BONUS!” Costello probes the ladies, “Do you know what sparkling purple mean..? That’s the jackpot “bonus!” You girls have some good music to listen to up here.”

Post-spin, Costello’s vivacious assistant invites the two (and every spinner) to Costello’s “Society Lounge.” She encourages guests to sip a cocktail (delivered from backstage VIP), to dance in the “Hostage to Fortune Go-Go Cage” (if they have the courage), and to just experience Costello Magic up close and personal. The ladies make their way to Donald Trump’s chairs as the stage is intoxicated with colors – green, orange, yellow, and purple. The crowd turns quiet, and the band starts to play (what turns into) a mini set of, “I Can Sing the Colors of the Rainbow.”

Costello engages his fans in another story. This time it’s about the artwork in a hotel room he stayed at in Berkeley circa 1970. “On the wall of the room, there was a beautiful, painted silhouette of a couple fucking. I knew this was a reminder for me – ‘things to do today’.” Eyebrows and laughter rise from the weed-dazed audience.

Costello runs through the next few songs without a Songbook selection. Fans yell “Chelsea!” as soon as they pick-up the well-remembered note combination of “(I Don’t Want To Go To) Chelsea.” The band plays deep reggae tones, and the lighting engineer flashes starry lights just before the stage is swallowed in bright yellow-orange hues.

The crowd continues to cheer until Costello walks out from backstage, alone, wearing a sparkly gold jacket with a black collar and, no surprise, his classic black-rimmed glasses. Costello serenades the audience, “I’m just one lone man, traveling, with a suitcase.” He continues, “Somebody’s calling me again,” before walking back off-stage.

The night ends with a third hard-hitting chaotic-rock encore rendition of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Costello, still wearing the gold sparkling jacket, he claims is “a jacket you can cheat in,” is pleased with his production. He looks back to The Imposters, looks forward to his fans, and blows the Fox a kiss. The back lights flash frantically (vaudeville-finale style) and Costello is gone – off to perform his next outrageous musical carnival.

Amy Powell

The Revolver Tour, Fox Oakland – May 9, 2011

The Revolver Tour, Fox Theater Oakland – full set-list via Setlist.fm: http://tinyurl.com/44z4q8u


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