May 13, 2011

Elvis Costello and the Imposters at the Wiltern, Los Angeles, May 12th 2011

Setlist from

I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart Of The City
Mystery Dance
Radio Radio
I Want You*
Monkey To Man*
God Give Me Strength*
Watching The Detectives*
And Your Bird Can Sing
Doll Revolution+
Next Time 'Round+
Out Of Time+
Everyday I Write The Book*
Stella Hurt*

A Slow Drag With Josephine
Jimmie Standing In The Rain

Pump It Up (in 6/8)/Busted
So Like Candy/Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood*

Red Shoes/Purple Rain
Peace, Love And Understanding

* selected by the Spinning Songbook
+ with the Bangles on backing vocals

E.C. - vocals/giutar/piano. Steve Nieve - piano & Hammond organ. Pete Thomas - drums. Davey Faragher - bass/backing vocals.

This was only the second time Em and I have seen a Costello show (first was in March 2005 in Oakland for the "Delivery Man" tour). Some quick notes:

The band came on without an opening act (but with a frugging go-go dancer), blasting through five quick & dirty loud rockers before settling into some loungey, game-show music. From there, Costello acted the emcee/showman part to the hilt, ranting and raving in a carnival-barking preacher cadence, sometimes roaming the first few rows to select victims that would spin the big wheel and determine the set list, sometimes delegating that to "Katya," a dolled-up female assistant who looked like a hooker extra from an old Western. Fans who got on stage to spin the wheel could either dance in the "Hostage to Fortune Go-Go Cage" or relax on "society lounge" chairs near Nieve's keyboards. They usually chose to dance.

Like the original "Spinning Songbook" tour from 1986/7, this set was heavy on stuff from Costello's '86 album Blood and Chocolate, his last with the Attractions until 1994 and '96; "I Hope You're Happy," "Uncomplicated," "I Want You," and "Next Time 'Round" padded the early part of the set. Also like that tour, Costello introduced himself as "Napoleon Dynamite," his leering alter ego from that period and the cover subject of Blood and Chocolate. He made a point of saying something like "they made a movie about me once, but accept no substitutes—I am the original Napoleon Dynamite."

That wasn't the only flashback. The first "Spinning Songbook" tour had guest stars come on stage at every city, and when it rolled into L.A. twenty-five years ago, Costello called the Bangles onstage to sing along (and, somewhat ironically, dance in the go-go cage). Susanna Hoffs & Co. returned for this go-round too, singing backup on four songs that included some Beatles and Stones covers. Most of Costello's older hits from the '70s and '80s were played straight, but "Pump it Up" had a new 6/8 bluesy arrangement, and he sang it from the piano.

There was a quiet interlude where Costello played solo/acoustic, for two songs from last year's National Ransom album. He pulled a stunt we've seen many other people do recently (Jeff Tweedy, Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons): step away from the mic and sing to the audience un-amplified. Emily said something like "singing without a mic is the new black," which is totally true, but Costello did it well, thanks to his voice and the always-awesome Wiltern acoustics.

If you're not familiar with Costello's recent stuff, "Doll Revolution" is from When I Was Cruel (2002), "Monkey to Man" is from The Delivery Man (2004), "Stella Hurt" is from Momofuku (2008), "Josephine" and "Jimmie" are from The National Ransom (2010), and "God Give Me Strength" is from his Bacharach collaboration Painted from Memory (1998).

Covers - "Earthbound" isn't technically a cover—it was written by Costello—but he never recorded it, Wendy James did. "Wheels" is a Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers tune. "Your Bird Can Sing" and "Girl" are of course by the Beatles. "Out of Time" is by the Stones, from Aftermath. "Busted" is an old country tune by Harlan Howard, made famous by (among others) some guy named Johnny Cash. "Misunderstood" is by the Animals, but it also appeared on Costello's King of America album in 1985. "Heart of the City" is by longtime Costello producer Nick Lowe, who also wrote "What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love, and Understanding." And really, if you don't know who sang "Purple Rain" you don't deserve to live.

This was the second of two sold-out nights at the Wiltern. Costello's website has an L.A. Times review of the first night here. We had a super-fun time, and it was way better than our first Costello show 6 years ago.

Oh, and I also scored a t-shirt with this photo on it:


  1. Sounds awesome. I have never been to a live Costello show; I'm not all that fond of live rock anyway (I like my hearing!), but despite it, I made what appears now to have been a very ill-advised purchase of U2 tickets at Angel Stadium -- which then got postponed because of Bono's back injury mid-tour last year. Think I would have much more enjoyed the Costello show, though it's not the sort of thing the wife is into. Our musical tastes diverge at almost exactly the year I went into college and KROQ started to get really good.

  2. It was a great time. Like being at a 60's party with the best cover (and original) band in the world. Some of the Wheel selections were lousy but that's the randomness of it. Top 3 Elvis show for me and I've seen him probably 15 times.

  3. @ Rob: My hearing is busted from 15 years playing in bands, so I might as well enjoy the odd show by someone else now and again. :) Em likes some Costello music, but she's not a full-on geek for him like I am. Even so, to her vast and unflappable credit she came out with me on a school night (she is a middle school science teacher).

    Also, you might have noticed that (for better or worse) I'm a hopeless U2 nerd. However, I'm not all that enthused by this 360 tour. Its occasional deep-catalogue surprises are exciting (more on that later), but I didn't get Angel Stadium tickets because I don't really want to see concerts in stadiums anymore. They're not made for music—places like the Wiltern are, with great acoustics and (especially in L.A.) sound crews who know what they're doing. Though I did see U2's PopMart tour at Jack Murphy in San Diego and it was pretty mind-blowing, in a sort of 2001 apes-before-the-monolith way.

    @ Chuck & Janet: Yes, the whole vibe was very retro, with that pre-psychedelic '60s feel of Ready Steady Go or something. For me it just goes to show that, for Elvis as for us all, the creative stimuli you get as a child will stick with you for a lifetime. I also liked how he'd keep the wheel turning if it didn't get a great selection: "If we couldn't cheat a little, then this wouldn't be Los Angeles, would it?"

  4. That sounds rad, Keir. I'm glad to hear it was a fun time. I'm definitely with you on the venue -- I prefer theaters rather than stadiums (Latin nerd wants to say "stadia").

    But then, you saw me at the Built to Spill show. I'm officially old & grumpy now, I think.

  5. Bryn, I was sitting next to a 20-something chubby girl who was WAY TOO EXCITED about this stuff: "Oh my god, he's bringing people on stage OH HE KISSED HER HAND! How awesome!" She and her friend left 2/3 through the main set. There are people like that at every show—they're just oblivious. You either let it get to you or you roll with it.

    For example, I take my cues from the artist on stage. When Costello helped up a set of twins to do a double spin of the wheel, some dude yelled really loud "THE CAGE! GET 'EM IN THE CAGE!" To which Costello replied "You come up here and get in the fuckin' cage, mate." Everyone laughed and it shut the heckler down. Elvis broke into the game when the audience spit on you and threw bottles. He can handle anything.


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