"Equal Parts carnival barker and Ronnie Barker"

Rhythm Circus: Ollie Carlisle: June 7th, 2012

Elvis Costello takes to the stage at 8pm and blasts out four songs back-to-back without pausing for breath while a go-go dancer performs in a cage to one side. He finally leaves the stage three hours later, having put so much into the show he is ordered by doctors to postpone the following night’s gig and give his voice a rest…

After the initial burst of songs Elvis introduces us to a giant wheel of fortune known as The Spectacular Spinning Songbook, for which he assumes his alias, Napoleon Dynamite (something he came up with in the mid-eighties, long before the film of the same name). Equal parts carnival barker and Ronnie Barker, he brings members of the crowd up to spin the wheel with the help of glamorous assistant, and Tess Daly lookalike, Katya from the Ukraine. There are around forty songs listed on the wheel as well as mysteriously vague themes for linking songs, such as ‘girls’ and ‘I can sing a rainbow’. This gives an unpredictable edge to proceedings as we could just as much end up with big hits, cover versions, or obscure album tracks. The first spin throws up the latter, Bedlam from 2004’s The Delivery Man, but Elvis is good enough to throw in his own selections between spins so all angles of his career are covered, from Alison to an acoustic set from his latest album, National Ransom.

The spontaneous approach is highlighted when someone celebrating their birthday is allowed an extra spin. This lands on the word ‘numbers’ so we are treated to five consecutive songs Elvis has written with numeric titles, such as Two Little Hitlers and Less Than Zero. The guest spinners are shown to a seat in front of Steve Nieve’s keyboard compendium to enjoy their selection with a bright red or blue cocktail. Frequently they are also invited to join the go-go dancer in the cage for an awkward boogie. The only downside of the wheel is that you find out which songs didn’t come up. Still, it’s hard to feel short-changed when you hear classics like Shipbuildingand Tramp The Dirt Down.

During a lengthy version of Watching The Detectives Elvis segues into blues standard Help Me, wandering from the stage to find another helper from the back of the audience. Their spin is given a helping hand by Katya to land on another thematic keyword. This time it simply says ‘happy’ which means we get I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down and High Fidelity from 1980’s Get Happy. Immediately following this are show closers Oliver’s Army, Pump It Up and(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love & Understanding, raising the party atmosphere up to eleven. This may explain Elvis’ lack of voice the next day but is something for which the good people of Cambridge can be very grateful as, over the course of thirty songs, he has proved his songwriting prowess to be equalled by his music hall revival style abilities as a showman.