Elvis Costello & The Imposters@ Birmingham

Tonight at the Symphony Hall is the legendary Elvis Costello. What can you say about a man who has had more classic hits than most of us have had hot dinners, with over 60 singles, thirty-odd albums in a career spanning well over thirty years. And that’s before you event mention his lyrical prowess!

Tonight, we’re in for a treat. This is the Revolver tour. With no support, the stage is set with a backdrop of an old TV, a ‘bar’ with drinks and stools, a circular dancing ‘cage’, a vaudeville set with a ‘the hammer of songs’ and a spectacular spinning ‘wheel of tunes’…

Elvis Costello @ Birmingham

So just after 8pm, on come Costello and his motley crew – and an incredibly fast streak of songs – ‘Hope You’re Happy Now’, ‘Heat of the City’ (Nick Lowe cover), ‘Mystery Dance’ and ‘Radio Radio’ – a track that speeds through at a million miles an hour. All frenetically danced to in the ‘cage’ by Mother Superior of Our Lady of Perpetual Tormente – Dixie de la Fenton.

And then, a total change of pace – Costello swaps his trilby for a showman’s top hat, cane in hand – “Good evening, my name’s Napoleon Dymanite…. sorry no dog acts in this show….. you are here to hear many, many songs…. and you will be the ones to choose them…. love (ooh from crowd)…. sex (another ooooh)…. death (laughter)… and not necessarily in that order…” He shines a spotlight on the crowd, and his lovely assistant Katja, escorts a brave soul to the stage to participate in the first spin of the ‘wheel of tunes’ – Joyce is the first audience member “these people’s enjoyment of the next five minutes is in your hands…” Tonight’s set can be from a 150 song catalogue – the next song could be anything – written by Costello or not. Whilst Joyce sits on the barstool for the first, for the second she’s invited to waltz as Costello serenades her with ‘She’. ‘She’ culminates with Costello, singing with limited accompaniment slap bang in the middle of the audience in the Symphony Hall. This is Costello at his best.

Elvis Costello @ Birmingham

Back on stage, pulling along audience member Neville for a second spin of the wheel. Costello: “Great thing about this show is we have no idea what we’re doing….” This one’s a numbers game – ‘Everything is Less than Zero.’ Spin three, with Hannah in charge, “show your enthusiasm for these spinners…. sympathy or envy…” Costello is entertainingly chatty: “Tomorrow’s Sun (newspaper) headline: Rebecca is a pervert” (a first reference to the phone hacking and press storm currently going on and the news today that Rebecca Brookes being charged with perverting the course of justice) “…. Well printing half the story has never bothered them before…” A slot on Have I Got News For You may well be waiting for him. And into a song co-written with one Paul McCartney ‘So Like Candy.’

Next spin and we have Rachel and nephew Sam on stage “family show you see..” and a double spin comes up with ‘Girl’ and ‘Kings Ransom’. And another reference to the Leveson enquiry – “one all the time – fascinating…” ‘Girl’ songs include ‘Girl Talk.’ And we’re less than halfway through this epic set – Katja escorts John and his daughter to the stage. This time to hit the ‘hammer of songs.’ For ‘Motel Mothers’ we see Dixie back in her cage, followed up by a Chuck Berry classic ‘No Particular Place to Go’ played in a different time sync – which he played, without band, at a 2012 Award ceremony in front of Chuck Berry and Keith Richards – Leonard Cohen was also there. Costello is on the move again, walking round the auditorium, and taking time to sit within the audience and sing.

Elvis Costello @ Birmingham

Costello: “Half the time we don’t know what songs are on there …(referring to the wheel) …. the other night it was all Slade….” The fortunate (depending on how you look at it) pulled up on stage, don’t get to escape that easily – either seated at the ‘bar’ or given opportunity to strut their stuff in Dixie’s ‘cage.’ And this time it’s Vicky that spins the wheel and gets ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and classic Costello tracks to accompany that theme. Then to finish – a gothic track – ‘I Want You’ – the stage shrouded in red light, big sing, with harpsichord sound, and screaming vocals at the end.

Break – and now it’s the encore. On comes the ‘magic table’ and appearing from a case – a ukulele – and we’re into a couple of ‘Josephine’ tracks – ‘Who’s the Meanest Girl in Town, Josephine’ and ‘ A Slow Drag with Josephine…..and following an acoustic period (he’s still going with a little anti-Maggie rant – “then we had Maggie Major, then Maggie Blair…. Can’t remember the new blokes name…”) more tracks featuring ‘Oliver’s Army’, ‘Watching the Detectives’ and another standout of the night ‘Shipbuilding’. Self spinning his wheel of tunes – he stops it at the classic ‘Chelsea’ and following the intro to his band of Imposters, we’re into the finale – ‘Peace Love and Understanding’.

Elvis Costello @ Birmingham

This set was for the fans, and to celebrate a massive back catalogue that is literally full of surprises. A night to absorb rather than party – but truly impressive. Catch the vaudeville wheel of songs if you can – it’s worth the spin. And you can check it out on his rather impressive website www.elviscostello.com – and play the game at home!

It was nearly a three hour set – this was one the audience watched, seated, memorized by so many songs, Costello’s friendly and quirky and entertaining anecdotes, the amount that was going on, and of course taking in his true lyrical prowess that is very much Costello’s own. To give a set list would be wrong – every night is different, the potential song list way too long, and there’s treats that pop up when you least expect it – so as per the way the entire night runs, I’ll leave it a surprise. For me Costello is at his best when singing alone, or with low key band – it was ‘She’ and Shipbuilding’ that were the standouts. And you sat, you listened to all the words.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters@ Birmingham

Review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown
Photos by John Bentley

3 Responses to “Elvis Costello and The Imposters @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 15th May 2012”

  1. Tony Heath Says:


    Love the review and a great set of photos. I was on stage that night with my daughter Melissa. We swung the hammer of songs and requested Motel Matches and Bedlam. After spending some time in the ‘Society lounge’ and then tripped the light fantastic with EC in the Go Go cage we stayed on stage throughout his Chuck Berry anecdotes and No Particular Place To Go. If joining EC on stage wasn’t enough we’d love a memento. Would it be possible to contact John Bentley to see if he has any further photos?

    Also, I noticed a number of camera’s filming the event, do you have any further info?

    Keep up the good work,


  2. Wayne Says:

    Glad you liked the gig and JB/ZMB review :o)
    Certainly, you could try his website…
    There’s an email address on the footing of the page.

    All the best :o)

  3. john bentley Says:

    There are one or two more pics on my Flickr site-http://www.flickr.com/photos/john_arc-images/

    Cheers, John

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