From Circus Costello To Lonesome Elvis

DeMorgen: Bart Steenhaut: June 1st, 2012

That Elvis Costello has many variations is known, but the two sold-out performances that the glass wearing singer/songwriter has done in the past few days in the Ancienne Belgique and the Royal Circus couldn't be more different.

Elvis Costello has more than thirty CDs behind his name and virtually every genre covered.

He began his career in the mid-seventies London pub-scene, was later one of the most prominent figures from the British punk, and subsequently built a repertoire from which both country, soul, jazz, opera and classic were dealt with. In addition to his acting, whose actual name is Declan MacManus, in the last few years he has become a supreme talk show host.

That latest show Wednesday evening in the Ancienne Belgique fitted well, where he, together with The Imposters put on a show of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook, a concept where Costello traveled through the USA last year.

The idea is simple: there will be a great Wheel on the podium on which song titles and themes are listed. Costello's assistant, a hormone-stirring, mirrored, freaky Russian type, picks random people from the public who may have a go on the wheel, and so to sets the scene for the night.

Then they will, under a little persuasion, be led to a cage where they will entertain the crowd by doing a little dance, helped by a sexy professional whose bones seem to appear elastic.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Costello would creep into the skin of his sardonic alter-ego, Napoleon Dynamite as a ringmaster, with top hat and a stick- and entertain the crowd.

To be honest: the kit is not essentially different to the regular shows done by The Imposters, but the ingenious package ensured that from the first note it was a party. The band played tight and at a rip-roaring pace through classics like  “I hope you're happy now”, “Radio Radio” and “Mystery Dance”

Costello made up to two walks through the room, had a solo moment to show some of his new work, among others the song written for the to the recently deceased Doc Watson "Dr. Watson, I presume'. But after popular covers of Prince (“Purple Rain”) and Johnny Cash ("Cry, Cry, Cry”) in the final stretch the hits came through like confetti with 'Oliver's Army', “Indoor Fireworks”, “Pump It Up” and as always,the heart-pounding, “I Want You”, as the apotheosis.

In between, they played the intimate, “Almost Blue” for shy Lana and the charming Joker Spin gave “Clubland” on the show. Occasionally there was even cheating.

The obscure "Hoover Factory" was turned twice but not played, and there was a bell that once struck with a hammer, provided another wildcard. The request “Alison” was chosen, even though the Wheel did not stop at that song.


Where the show in the Ancienne Belgique, actually a large give-the-people-what they-want-show, the following day it was the solo concert in the Royal Circus, one for the connoisseurs, with many less obvious songs, and a generous selection from the National Ransom, his most recent CD.

Not a bad thing, since, live, those songs were extremely good with the intimate “Jimmie Standing In The Rain” and “Bullets for the New Born King: as surprising winners.

In addition, to being a stunning songwriter Costello is also a masterful narrator, who therefore had no difficulty to keeping the public entertained in his two hours and 45 minutes.

He switched between acoustic and electric guitars. His cover of Aznavour's 'She' was one that made you emotional. “For More Tears”, played at the piano, is an excellent new song that has not even been recorded.

During the final round, a surprise, Steve Nieve steps out onto the stage, and their sober, half-improvised version of “I want you" - one of the few overlaps with the set the previous day, was again a hit.

Nick Lowe’s  (What's so funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding' - the traditional bang - that was it.

Two times Costello, two times different, two times an excellent concert. As a true Elvis befits.