Elvis Costello And The Imposters@Symphony Hall, Birmingham 31/5/13

Rocking The Midlands: 1st June, 2013

RTM saw Elvis Costello for the first time last year. Same venue, same set up. A big wheel on stage members of the audience spinning said sphere and Elvis and band playing whatever it lands on, while spinner watches the song from the on stage bar. It is all very relaxed.

In our review of the 2012 show, we wrote that we didn’t expect to see “a lady dancing in a cage wearing a short purple dress and knee length boots” during the course of a singer/songwriter evening. The lady, the boots and cage are back this time too, but this year what shocked us was Costello himself. Towards the end of this mammoth two and a half hour show, he plays “I Want You” and during in the song, he rips out an absolutely stunning guitar solo. If nothing else, it proves that his gigs always have the power to surprise.

The rest of it was pretty damn good too. He and his band The Imposters began with “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” and also played the always welcome “Radio Radio” before the first audience member, given the chance to “come from the stalls to the stars” as host for the evening Napoleon Dynamite puts it spins “Oliver’s Army” which is played with a slightly altered arrangement. That “Dynamite” actually is Costello with a different hat on tells you all you need to know about the evening.

Hostess “The Mysterious Josephine” plucks some more people out of the crowd and “Pump It Up” is a winner, someone else wants to hear “Good Year For The Roses” doesn’t spin it, but it is played anyway.

Around half the songs are audience picks, which says much for the abilities of Imposters to play such a repertoire, while others are chosen by Costello himself (“If you can’t cheat in Birmingham, then where can you cheat?” he says with a grin)

The main set closes with “Tramp The Dirt Down” a song which you suspect has just a touch more resonance this year, but the band are far from finished. During “Watching The Detectives” Costello goes for a stroll around the crowd, picks three more people out for another spin, plays “(I Don’t Want to Go) To Chelsea and a fantastic and plaintive “Shipbuilding” but still isn’t done. A second encore which includes “Out Of Time” and “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love And Understanding” is what actually ends things.

Only an artist with a fine and extensive back catalogue could pull a show like this off. And only one with supreme confidence in their songs would try it. Far more than just a conventional gig, this is a extravaganza which takes elements of comedy (Costello is genuinely funny on occasion), variety, fairground and old style entertainment, and you cannot say fairer than that. It would be nothing without the songs, however,  but as everyone knows Costello has good ones in spades.

Quite superb – and unlike the last time we saw this show, we knew that it would be.