The last time Elvis Costello spun a big wheel of song titles to determine his setlist, it was 1986 and he was enjoying the surge of a career revival. He was packing a one-two punch: King of America, a stately, steel-guitar-streaked meditation that may still be his finest hour, and Blood and Chocolate, a fierce return to “guilt and revenge” form that sported the chilling showstopper “I Want You.”
The singer didn’t need a gimmick as fabulously entertaining as what he’s now calling “The Spectacular Spinning Songbook,” but when a fan came up to the stage to give the device a whirl, and the audience held its breath as the selections flashed by, it was thrilling to partake in such a Vaudevillian conceit. We’re not sure what Costello has under his hat this time, as he dusts off the wheel for his Revolver Tour, but here’s hoping he treats his catalog with the same invention and irreverence as he did before.
Back then, the performer was keen on surprise medleys and interpolations: “I Want You” segued into “I Say a Little Prayer for You”; “Pump It Up,” accompanied by a boombox, rattled into “The Message.” Always a surprise. Since he’s touring with the Imposters (which includes two-thirds of the former Attractions, the essential Steve Nieve on keyboards and Pete Thomas on drums), there’s a good likelihood of some dagger-tongued 1970s Elvis among the “157 and a half” songs reportedly rehearsed for the tour, “not including the songs they intend to learn on the night.” As for more recent material, let’s just ask: Do you know anyone who even heard Momofuku?