Category: Elvis Costello

Review: Elvis Costello's spontaneous 'Spinning Songbook'

  Elvis Costello brought the Spinning Songbook back to the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles

Hand it to Elvis Costello: With his delightfully zany “Spectacular Spinning Songbook” conceit, the indefatigable British singer and songwriter has created a musical game show in which he not only gets to host but also cheat, and the audience often hopes he’ll do so.

On Tuesday, as he rolled the Spinning Songbook back into the Wiltern, wrapping up the Revolver Tour that had been at the same venue 11 months ago, Costello again brought audience members up to the stage throughout the two hour and 20 minute show to spin the big wheel.

The spinning wheel is a device he first introduced in 1986, and also used at a Wiltern show that year. On that wheel are 40 slots, mostly with names of songs, but with a few wild-card entries such as “Cash,” which allowed him to play a Johnny Cash tune of his choosing (“Cry, Cry, Cry”), and also the word “Happy,” which unleashed a handful of songs from his 1979 album “Get Happy” when it surfaced on another fan’s spin. (Nobody ever got the wheel to stop in the slot labeled “Imperial Chocolate,” which presumably would have led to a set from the “Imperial Bedroom” and “Blood & Chocolate” albums.)

There were a couple of times, however, when Costello slyly tipped the wheel after it stopped moving, bumping it forward or back to serve up a different song. For instance, toward the end of the evening, a woman who said her name was Chelsea gave it a spin, and Costello helped nudge it toward the “Chelsea” slot that naturally opened the door for him and the Imposters to rip into 1978’s “I Don’t Want to Go to Chelsea.”

Elvis Costello saluted Chuck Berry during PEN New England songwriter award ceremonyHe also nudged the wheel over to “No Particular Place to Go,” so he could play his radical revisioning of Chuck Berry’s rock classic as a waltz, but also so he could deliver a priceless anecdote from his role in PEN New England’s first award for song lyrics of literary excellence event in Boston. The group bestowed the honor on Berry and Leonard Cohen, and in his best impression of Cohen’s sub-basement bass voice, Costello quoted the Canadian poet-singer and songwriter’s confession at the proceedings earlier this year at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum that “All of us are footnotes to the words of Chuck Berry.”

The Spinning Songbook gimmick was expanded this time around with an additional carny trick: “The Hammer of Songs,” in which one fan was given a large mallet to attempt to ring a bell at the top of a board marked with different categories, including “Songs of Sneer” and “The Hits of Tomorrow” (“songs so great,” Costello explained, “I haven’t even written them yet.”) In this case, the fan succeeded in ringing the bell, for which she won the right to choose any song title on the wheel.

It was all in good fun during an evening that celebrated spontaneity over the tightly programmed concert rituals we’ve become accustomed to over the years. The only downsides of an otherwise exceptionally upbeat and lively show were a sound mix that slowly progressed from congealed mess to annoyingly muted, and a curiously reluctant guest appearance during the final encore by Costello’s wife, jazz singer-pianist Diana Krall, who added Ramsey Lewis-ish chord flourishes during “What’s So Funny (‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding”), then did her best to refuse to join her husband and his mates for the final bow.

Vicki and Debbie Peterson, the two members of the Bangles who showed up to sing harmony on that tune, seemed to have a much easier time slipping into the spirit of the proceedings.

The Spinning Songbook is a perfect device for a musician and his band who are essentially human jukeboxes, and who prize the inspired musical moment over the programmed emotional response.

Costello has had the spinning wheel around for years now, but it makes for a great show. Fans can always hope that what goes around might come around once more.


Live: Elvis Costello at the Greek Theatre

'Sesame Street's' latest victim: Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello on price of new box set: 'Either a misprint or a satire'

-- Randy Lewis

Top photo of Elvis Costello during his 2011 "Spectacular Spinning Songbook" performance at the Wiltern Theatre. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.

Second photo: Chuck Berry and Elvis Costello in February at PEN New England's award for song lyrics of literary excellence in Boston. Credit: Josh Reynolds / Associated Press.

Elton John, Lady Gaga among pop stars snubbed in Oscar best song category

Click for photos of the top nominees

The consolation for Elton John, Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Chris Cornell, Zooey Deschanel and other superstar pop, rock and country musicians who got snubbed in the best song Academy Award nominations announced Tuesday is that they’re in pretty stellar company.

With just two songs earning nominations —“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” and “Real in Rio” from “Rio” -- the list of also-rans includes a bounty of heavyweight performers and songwriters.

Yet they didn’t score enough points with Academy voters to make the final nomination list. Voters had 39 songs to sort through this year, for which they were asked to assign a score to each on a scale of 6 to 10 points, after viewing clips from each film that included the eligible song.

FULL COVERAGE: The Oscar nominees

Only songs that received an average of 8.25 points or more could be nominated, with a maximum of five songs in the category, and no more than two songs from the same film.

Among the songs that fell short of that score were two Elton John songs from “Gnomeo and Juliet”: “Love Builds a Garden” and his duet with Lady Gaga, “Hello Hello.” Mary J. Blige’s “Living Proof” from “The Help” and Elvis Costello’s “Sparkling Day” from “One Day” were under consideration, along with Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell’s “The Keeper” from “Machine Gun Preacher,” Deschanel’s “So Long” from “Winnie the Pooh” and Black Eyed Peas member’s “Hot Wings,” also from “Rio.”

One of the most powerful songs to appear in a movie last year was J. Ralph’s “Hell and Back,” sung by Willie Nelson. But because it appeared in a documentary, director Danfung Dennis’ “Hell and Back Again” about the war in Afghanistan, it was a longshot for a nomination.

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Elvis Costello and the Imposters announce West Coast tour dates

Elvis costello
Elvis Costello's ballyhooed Spectacular Spinning Songbook Tour will make a run for the West Coast this spring, including a return to the Wiltern, along with dates in Seattle, Portland, Ore., San Diego and San Francisco, it was announced Monday. Since the tour's launch in 2011, Costello has performed in more than 30 cities across the U.S., with a heavy measure of critical success.

Despite Costello's dust-up with Amazon over the high price of his grandiose box set, "The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook," reviews and concert footage of the show suggest that fans are more than happy to shell out the dough to see him in person. Could it be the interactive nature of the show?

At each performance, select fans are invited onstage to spin the Wheel -- a fixture at Costello's shows back in the late '80s -- helping to create new sets at each performance. The Wheel is a rotating mix of hits, rarities and a few surprises. This tour marks its first appearance in 25 years.

Tickets for the San Francisco date go on sale Friday. Tickets for the shows in Seattle, Portland, Ore. and San Diego  go on sale Saturday. An additional show in Windsor, Canada, goes on sale Jan. 21. Check out the full list of tour dates below.

2012 Spectacular Spinning Songbook Tour Dates:
April 10 -– Vancouver, Canada -- Orpheum Theatre
April 12 -– Seattle -– Paramount Theatre
April 13 -- Portland, Ore.  -- Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
April 15 -- San Francisco -– Warfield Theatre
April 16 -- San Diego -– Humphreys
April 17 -- Los Angeles -– The Wiltern
April 21 -- Windsor, Canada -- Colosseum at Caesars Windsor
April 23 -– Melbourne, Fla. -- King Center
April 24 -– Clearwater, Fla. --  Ruth Eckerd Hall
April 25 -- Hollywood, Fla. -- Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
April 27 -- Jacksonville, Fla. -- Florida Theatre
April 29 -- Durham, N.C. -- Durham PAC


Live review: Elvis Costello at the Wiltern Theatre 

Elvis Costello on price of new box set: 'Either a misprint or a satire' 

Elvis Costello resurrects 'Spinning Songbook' for 'The Revolver Tour' in May 

-- Nate Jackson

Photo: Elvis Costello performs at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles in May. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Amnesty International 'Chimes of Freedom' salutes Bob Dylan's music

Bob Dylan Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan gets a broad-spectrum musical salute with the  new four-CD, 75-song multi-artist tribute album “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan: Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International,” being released as part of anniversary efforts for the human rights organization.

Participating arists include Adele, Elvis Costello, Pete Townshend, Patti Smith, Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, My Chemical Romance, Queens of the Stone Age, Sting, Sugarland, Airborne Toxic Event and the Dave Matthews Band.

Dylan was selected as the focus of Amnesty International’s latest project because 2012 also will be the 50th anniversary of the release of his debut album, “Bob Dylan.” The “Chimes of Freedom” album seeks to raise funds for and awareness of the organization that lobbies on behalf of political prisoners and victims of human rights abuses throughout the world.

Continue reading »

Elvis Costello 'Spinning Songbook' CD-DVD box set coming Dec. 6

Elvis Costello Elvis Costello

A limited-edition CD/DVD and vinyl box set capturing Elvis Costello’s performances in Los Angeles earlier this year on his Revolver tour -- built around the contraption known as “the Spectacular Spinning Songbook” -- will be released Dec. 6.

The live set, recorded as Costello and his band the Imposters played at the Wiltern Theatre on May 11 and 12, will include one CD with 16 tracks, a DVD with 19 songs and a 10” vinyl single with four songs.

The Revolver Tour revived the spinning songbook idea Costello first used in 1986, allowing members of the audience to spin a giant wheel containing the titles of some three dozen songs, plus several wild-card keywords. He and the band would then play the title the wheel stopped on -- for the most part. 

At the Wiltern shows, he occasionally digressed from the dictates of the spinning wheel. The “Elvis Costello & the Imposters — The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook” three-disc box set will be limited to 1,500 copies, but a regular-edition CD and DVD from the shows will be issued next year.


Live review: Elvis Costello at the Wiltern

Album review: Elvis Costello's 'National Ransom'

Elvis Costello resurrects 'Spinning Songbook' for 'The Revolver Tour'

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Elvis Costello performs at the Wiltern Theatre in May on his Revolver tour. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.

Burt Bacharach and Hal David to receive Gershwin Prize

Burt Bacharach and Hal David
The veteran songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David has been chosen to receive the Library of Congress' fourth Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, which will be presented at an all-star tribute ceremony in the spring in Washington.

The creators of dozens of hits including "I Say A Little Prayer," "Do You Know the Way To San Jose?," "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," "Walk On By," "What the World Needs Now" and "Alfie," for artists such as Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon and Herb Alpert, composer Bacharach and lyricist David are the first songwriting team to be honored with the Gershwin Prize.

"It's a great honor to receive this award and to follow the past recipients, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney -– it doesn't get any better than this," Bacharach, 83, said in a statement with Thursday's announcement.

In the same statement, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "Their creative talents have inspired songwriters for more than five decades, and their legacy is much in the tradition of George and Ira Gershwin, for whom this award is named."

The first Bacharach-David song registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress, was "Peggy in the Pantry," dated May 9, 1956. Since their heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Bacharach has teamed for varied projects with other musical partners including Elvis Costello, Don Was and Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers. 


Their aim is true

Bacharach with an Isley twist

The SoCal Songbook: "Pacific Coast Highway"

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Burt Bacharach, left, and Hal David in 1993. Credit: Jeffrey Mayer

Pop & Hiss premiere: New video for Gabriel Kahane's single 'L.A.'

Gabriel Kahane Gabriel Kahane 
The first single from Los Angeles native Gabriel Kahane’s sophomore album, “Where Are the Arms,” is the song “L.A.,” which not only directly references the city he was brought up in, but also another artist’s creative work: Joan Didion’s 1970 novel “Play It as It Lays.”

Anyone familiar with her scathing look at the experience of a young woman who travels to the City of Angels will know that Kahane’s song is anything but a love letter: The key lyrical hook in the song says “L.A. — the selfish city wins again.”

The singer, instrumentalist and composer, who was born in 1981 in Venice  and is the son of pianist and longtime Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra music director Jeffrey Kahane, Gabriel — who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. — said “L.A.” grew out of a visit home about four years ago when he was serving as music director for a production of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s rock musical “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

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Live review: Elvis Costello at the Wiltern Theatre

Long before the word “interactive” became an entertainment-industry mantra, Elvis Costello was there with his fabled “Spinning Songbook.”

A quarter century after he first cooked up the idea that exponentially amped up the practice of taking requests from the audience, Costello and his band the Imposters have resurrected the concept for a new generation, although the sold-out crowd on hand Wednesday for the first of two nights at the Wiltern Theatre clearly included a good number of those who’d been following him since his first go-round.

The new Revolver tour sees music as a thing of joy -- something of a revolutionary statement in and of itself in these days, when another of big buzzwords in the music business is monetization. This isn’t the garden-variety promotional tour designed primarily to build familiarity with -- and sales of -- an artist’s latest product, although he did manage to cleverly work in a couple of numbers from his most recent release, “National Ransom,” during an extended round of encores after a 2½-hour set.

Rather, Costello, keyboardist Steve Nieve, bassist-vocalist Davey Farragher and drummer Pete Thomas played like guests of honor at the most invigorating kind of living room party where attendees challenge one another in a combination of “Name That Tune” and “Top That!”

Continue reading »

Elvis Costello resurrects 'Spinning Songbook' for 'The Revolver Tour' in May

Elvis Costello-Spinning Songbook poster

Elvis Costello’s Spinning Songbook will whirl once more. The singer and songwriter will trot out the device he used on tour in 1986 for a new round of shows that allows audience members to select the songs at each night’s performance.

The game show wheel will include the titles of 40 songs and a different audience member will be invited onstage to spin the wheel to determine each successive song. While their song is being played, fans will have a choice of sitting in the “Hostage to Fortune Go-Go Cage” or in the onstage “Society Lounge,” where they will be served light refreshments. His 1986 tour with the spinning wheel remains one of Costello’s most celebrated.

Costello’s tour, dubbed “The Revolver Tour,” will encompass 10 shows in eight cities, starting May 7 in Reno, Nev., stopping May 11 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles and concluding with a pair of shows May 22-23 at New York’s Beacon Theatre.

Costello will be accompanied by the Imposters: his longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and guitarist Davey Faragher. Costello donated the original Spinning Songbook wheel to the Hartlepool (England) Museum of Showbusiness Machinery. The one he’ll use on the new tour has been reconstructed from the original blueprints.

Tickets for the Wiltern show go on sale Feb. 11; details are on Costello's website.

--Randy Lewis


Album review: Elvis Costello's 'National Ransom'

Elvis_Costello_National_240As a singer, songwriter and observer of human foibles, Elvis Costello is little short of dazzling on his latest outing. It certifies him as both the modern-day Cole Porter for the effortless way he marries sophisticated lyrics with elegant music, and contemporary counterpart to Brecht-Weill for his unrelenting skill at creating and inhabiting unforgettable characters and their dark situations.

Collaborating once again with T Bone Burnett and his crew of musical magicians, Costello fearlessly takes on rampant greed (the title track), society’s discards (“Jimmie Standing in the Rain”), abandoned love (“I Lost You”), romantic paranoia (“Dr. Watson, I Presume”) and myriad other topics in what feels like a sequel song cycle to 2009’s “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane.” This one delves even deeper into the art-song style, sometimes at the expense of the rootsy Americana fun that characterized its predecessor.

Costello and his accomplices cover the gamut — including the Brit pub-rock thump of “National Ransom,” the stunning jazzy pop of “Slow Drag With Josephine” and the dark cabaret lament of “You Hung the Moon.” At times, he happily ignores the hobgoblin of consistent time signature and revels in oblique lyrics; a few songs may require multiple listens to fully penetrate.

But anyone who loves the English language should marvel at his poking into its nooks and crannies with phrases such as “ravening maw,” “colliery town,” “fumbled skein,” and “vile vaudevillians.” In Costello’s infinitely gifted hands, pop music circa 2010 is anything but “only rock ’n’ roll.”

— Randy Lewis

Elvis Costello
“National Ransom”
Hear Music
Three stars (Out of four)


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