Elvis Costello & the Impostors at the State Theatre, 6/29/11

Categories: Last Night
Photos by Erik Hess
Elvis Costello & the Impostors
June 29, 2011
State Theater, Minneapolis

The first member of the audience who got to spin the big wheel sitting on stage at the State last night was a woman named Heidi. She ran up on stage, squealing with delight, and gave Elvis Costello an enormous hug. "My friend and I have been following you for 30 years!" she exclaimed. At that, Costello, dressed in a black top hat, ushered Heidi's friend, Lisa, on stage as well, and the two women spun the wheel together to see what song would be played next.

There were song titles spread around the wheel from all across Costello's career, including some that weren't even his, and most of which would get played before the night was through. Yet, appropriately enough, the one Heidi and Lisa landed on wasn't even a song, it was the wild card category: "Joker."

Landing there proved a special privilege, for the two got to pick whatever song they wanted off the wheel, then were invited to sit down on a couple of stools and enjoy drinks in the "Society Lounge" (a small bar) while Costello and his band, the Impostors, played "Watching the Detectives."

The night's elaborate stage show was mostly an excuse to play the part of the variety show host or vaudeville performer, and the man otherwise known as Declan MacManus did so cheekily, pointing to the wheel early in the night and declaring wryly, "Look at those hits!" Hell, there was even a caged go-go dancer, which tells you just about everything you need to know.

But at the heart of the whole set up was the wheel (which he resurrected after having first been used back in the 80s), something that was inevitably a gimmick, but it was more than that too. On the one hand, the cynic could easily point out that after four decades of performing, Costello needs something to keep things interesting for himself, so why not have the audience put together his set list? (Not that it's quite that simple, but hey, a little unpredictably never hurts.)

On the other hand, it was a unique means of reaching out to his audience, not only from an interactive standpoint but in a more meaningful way as well: the sheer excitement of meeting the man himself was writ large across the face of each guest who had the chance to join him onstage.

Photos by Erik Hess
It was fortunate, nonetheless, that Costello didn't rely exclusively on the wheel (the opening five songs were sans wheel, as was most of the encore), and more importantly, he put on an inspired show that would have been enjoyable without the stage props. The set lasted nearly a full three hours, the selection of songs reading like a greatest hits--"Radio, Radio," "Chelsea," "Peace, Love, and Understanding," and on and on--which he sprinkled with covers and bits and pieces of numerous other songs from Tin Pan Alley to The Wizard of Oz. His voice was remarkably strong as well, it having apparently aged much better than a number of his peers', and on multiple occasions he tore off crackling solos as a reminder that he's no slouch with the guitar either.​

Costello being Costello, he was more than happy to break the rules of his own game along the way, sometimes giving an extra spin so the wheel would land on a particular song or else working some loopholes into the rules themselves, like a category where he played a set of "Time" themed songs. So it shouldn't have been a surprise that, on a night in which he presented himself as the human jukebox, some of the more interesting moments should come from the songs that weren't even his.

Case in point: his cover of Bob Dylan's "This Wheel's on Fire." Costello stretched the song's slow, dirge-like arrangement out to be the longest of the night and combined it with one of his own, latter-day numbers "The River in Reverse" and anther cover, "I'll Take Care of You." The result transformed "Wheel's" contemplation of obligation and betrayal first into a near-religious rumination and later into a endearing expression of love, proving in one stroke that Costello remains an artist capable of reinventing and redefining his work, as well as that of others.

Perhaps it wasn't the most memorable song of the evening (there were plenty of his favorites for that). And perhaps Costello didn't build in such a mid-set centerpiece with the irony of the wheel imagery in mind. Then again, perhaps he was just being a joker all along.

Photos by Erik Hess
Critics' Bias:
I'll admit, I don't think I've ever watched his TV show. Nothing personal.
The crowd: Mostly middle aged, which seems like a fair reflection of the ticket prices, which ranged from $50 to $90.
Overheard in the crowd: (while drunkenly texting) Let me get up there and spin that wheel! I want to spin that wheel!
Random notebook dump: What do you know, almost three hours and of course we get a little Prince out of the deal too... 
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Erik Hess.

I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart of the City
Mystery Dance
Radio, Radio
Watching the Detectives
God's Comic
Clown Time is Over
Strict Time
Out of Time
Stations of the Cross
Wheel's on Fire/The River in Reverse/I'll Take Care of You (Medley)
So Like Candy
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

Slow Drag with Josephine
Jimmie Standing in the Rain
All Grown Up
You Tripped At Every Step
I Don't Want to Go to Chelsea
Beyond Belief
Everyday I Write the Book
Purple Rain
Alison (Medley)
What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding?

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