“It pulls you in so much, you feel as though you could stick out your tongue and potentially catch a bead of Costello perspiration…”
For 25 years Costello’s whacky attempt at making a tour that bit more interesting than a usual Elvis rock and roll show (and hell, it works wonders) has laid dormant at the bottom of the ocean of one of musics most iconic figures. Seeing as I hadn’t been born by the time The Spectacular Spinning Songbook last graced this Earth, I was excited as shit to receive an e-mail telling me that not only was it back, but it had been recorded onto a double C.D/DVD combo and there was a copy coming my way.
For anyone who doesn’t know how The Spectacular Spinning Songbook works, basically: The band play some songs, then thrust a couple of members of the audience onto the stage, whilst being MC’d by Costello’s alter-ego Napoleon Dynamite (so that’s where that awful film got its name!) who gets them to spin a huge roulette wheel filled with song titles from Costello’s back catalog and are then popped on a stool to be given an (almost) lap-dance from Katerina Valentina Valentine (who, according to the liner notes, is Tom Waits niece) whilst the band jam through whichever track the wheel stopped on. Sounds pretty good, right?
The thing is, doing this for every song would take far too much time. The audience would get about six or seven songs in total, and special guest Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles) would be on a tour of waiting side stage every night with her fingers crossed, hoping someone landed on ‘Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s a Doll Revolution)’ so the band make the majority of song choices themselves.
The logistics aren’t what’s important, right? Who cares how it happens as long as there’s an abundance of music, which there surely is, with the band playing them as tight and with as much vigorous ecstasy as when they were first written, which they do.
Both the CD and the DVD feature mostly the same show (though the C.D replaces certain DVD songs with alternate tracks from the other S.S.S. dates) and whilst the music is produced to as professional a level as to be expected from someone who has been the pinnacle of rock since he jammed at London pubs in the mid-70’s, there is something extra in watching the show. It’s the intensity. It pulls you in so much, you feel as though you could stick out your tongue and potentially catch a bead of Costello perspiration as he flies through the harder classics like ‘Radio Radio’, ‘Clubland’ and ‘Stella Hurt’.
The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook does exactly what it says on the tin: It is completely a spectacular return. And, with the exception of the giant wheel, a little audience participation and some “groovy” backing dancers, there isn’t much difference from a standard Costello show, but that’s probably the point. It’s hard to outdo yourself when you give 100% every night like Costello and the boys do, but the additional features of The S.S.S. just add a little more fun to what would be a set of nights featuring some of the most fantastic music ever written. Think of it as the cherry on the cake of what is Elvis Costello live. Wouldn’t you rather have that cake with a cherry? I know I would.