Review: Elvis Costello at Newcastle City Hall

HOW does an artist with 20-plus albums and hundreds of songs choose the select few to fill a two-and-a-half hour concert?

Elvis Costello

HOW does an artist with 20-plus albums and hundreds of songs choose the select few to fill a two-and-a-half hour concert?

The answer, if you are Elvis Costello, is to let the audience decide themselves thanks to a giant wheel of fortune containing many of his best known tunes which people are invited onstage to spin.

The Spectacular Spinning Songbook – which Costello first toured in 1986, the year of probably his best two albums – resulted in the singer-songwriter's most thrilling gig in the city for many years.

Things kicked off with a sprint through I Hope You’re Happy Now, Heart of the City, Mystery Dance and Radio Radio: the sort of high-octane, highly literate pop with which Costello made his name.

If that wasn’t thrilling enough, a go-go dancer gyrating on the side of the stage was impossible not to marvel at.

An audience member spun Everyday I Write the Book and had to cavort with her, while a couple who chose a couple of love songs did a slow dance of their own. In between songs, Costello was all witty banter and circus-master bluster; during them, he would wander out into the audience or just fill the City Hall with his voice.

Backing band The Imposters – essentially Costello’s old band the Attractions but with a new bass player – were wonderful.

This was Costello at his most playful and – for an artist who steadfastly refuses to trade on old glories – his most nostalgic, with the glory years of 1976-86 well represented. The angry young man of punk now seems content in his own skin – though he is still politically engaged, as proved by a scorching version of 20-year-old Tramp The Dirt Down (about dancing on a certain Prime Minister’s grave) and new protest song National Ransom.

An encore that included two of his best known songs – Oliver’s Army and Peace, Love and Understanding – inspired a performance from an audience member to match.

By that point, the gentleman on stage wasn’t the only one dancing.

 

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