ELVIS Costello isn’t so much reinventing the wheel on his latest tour but bringing it out of a 26-year retirement.
The Return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook finds him sharing the stage with a 20-foot high Victorian Fairground-style wheel colourfully painted with nigh-on 40 songs from his vast back catalogue.
He first used it back in 1986 and the idea has been resurrected for these epic three-hour live shows. It’s a simple but very effective theatrical concept that gives an intriguing twist to the night.
Not only does it bring the audience into the heart of the action as they get to choose the songs by spinning the wheel but it adds an air of unpredictability to the setlist.
But before the games begin, and as a knowingly kitsch silver catsuited go-go dancer in her cage gets busy stage left, Costello and his three-piece band The Imposters propel themselves into a clutch of punkish power pop gems to warm us up including a fiery I Hope You’re Happy Now and Radio Radio.
The first song choice via the wheel is a belter, offering up a particularly fine Good Year For The Roses which boasts a swelling piano accompaniment from long-time Costello sideman Steve Nieve.
More off-piste selections from the wheel included the tender Randy Newman cover I’ve Been Wrong Before and Shabby Doll.
The hits come thick and fast, too, from a crackling (I Don’t Want To) Go To Chelsea, through Watching The Detectives to the evergreen Oliver’s Army.
There are also moments of breathtaking drama such as the solo fingerpicked A Slow Drag With Josephine and a quite beautiful Jimmie Standing In The Rain.
The politically charged anti-Thatcher classic Tramp The Dirt Down was dusted off after decades in cold storage and followed in a devastating one-two punch with Shipbuilding.
We rounded off with all-guns-blazing versions of Pump It Up, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding and a stunningly broody I Want You.
Wheel or no wheel, this was a masterclass in songwriting and charismatic, nuanced rock’n’roll.
Rhod Gilbert, a one-man whirlwind of pen-up rage and permanent irritation has, to use his own words “let go of his anger balloon.” He’s a changed man. Or so he says.
His latest full-length show The Man With The Flaming Battenburg Tattoo seemingly finds him in an altogether more calm and reflective headspace after undergoing anger management therapy to curb his impotent rage at modern life.
The previous incarnation is, however, quick to bubble to the surface as he recounts the last couple of years worth of calamities and arguments that led him to his Road to Damascus moment.
Referring to the anger management diary given to him by his counsellor throughout, the show is framed by the preparations for a make-or-break trip to New York with his girlfriend. If the trip goes well, Gilbert will marry her. If it falls apart, the couple vow to call it a day. There are plenty of obstacles to negotiate first though before the main event.
He’s immediately at full throttle from the get-go with an opening routine about meeting a local elderly loony who is dressed only in an unsettlingly revealing dressing gown on the morning of the gig. It’s delivered with such manic gusto that it’s easy to get swept away purely on the energy of the performance rather than considering if there’s actually much worthwhile content to laugh at.
Gilbert’s an expert at maintaining momentum of a set and barely pauses for breath during an epic two-and-a-half hours show. He’s the comedy Bruce Springsteen. His commitment certainly papers over some cracks material-wise, without a doubt.
In amongst some rather indeterminate blustering, some comedy cream does rise to the top. A nicely expansive and silly routine on mixing up his ‘Relax’ and ‘Invigorate’ shower gels with exaggerated disastrous results was very well honed indeed.
It’s when Gilbert elaborates on the kernel of a comic idea and stretches it to surreal and absurd proportions that the show flies highest. An unwanted Christmas gift of a computerised toothbrush which prompts a disaster of national proportions and ‘suicidal’ jacket potatoes are another two well-executed flights of fancy.
Ironically enough, he gets bogged down in a meandering sketch on advertising in public toilets which goes nowhere in particular but recovers with an extended section on the UK’s appalling train service. Fertile ground indeed.
The second half is crammed with callbacks to previous punchlines to further underline a coherence to the narrative and the final payoff which fully explains the relevance of the tattoo is really rather poignant. It’s patchy for sure, but Gilbert’s force of nature performance style ultimately wins the day.
IF Stewart Lee’s latest stand-up show is essentially one giant confidence trick then at least he’s totally upfront about it.
“I have nothing…” he deadpans at various intervals to describe his apparent lack of material, thanks to a life that now consists solely of travelling around the UK’s motorway network by night on an extensive gig itinerary and watching Scooby Doo cartoons with his son by day.
But, of course, that’s all a typical labyrinthine ruse by Lee which feeds into another impeccable lesson in constructing - and most importantly deconstructing - a whole host of disparate ideas.
As a keen student of the mechanics of comedy, Lee has increasingly attempted to stretch and subvert the form. There’s an edginess and unpredictability about his performance style which remains refreshingly unique and challenging.
Thanks to his award-winning BBC2 Comedy Vehicle show, he’s aware that some Johnny-come-lately fans may be here by mistake simply looking for an easy-going night out. “I don’t like ‘new’ people” he says of his audience “This isn’t for you.” And you get the sense he’s only half joking.
It’s a notion he played with throughout here, sectioning off the crowd between his faithful following that have been there for the long haul and those in the balconies who are less ‘informed’.
Titled Carpet Remnant World, this show finds Lee providing a framework and a cheeky wink of an excuse for rolling out a grab bag of ideas which took in topical political potshots at David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, Anders Breivik, anti-Muslim hysteria, vicious put-downs of lowest common denominator observational comedians and, of course, Jeremy Clarkson. Lee will never let an opportunity pass to lambast Top Gear’s controversial host.
There’s also an extended surrealist flight of fancy which managed to tangentially tie in the aforementioned Scooby Doo with an anti-Thatcherite rant of hilarious proportions.
In the hands of less accomplished stand-ups, it would be easy to spot the seams here but he’s managed to weave them together with such verve that his material seems anything but threadbare. There you go, three carpet-related puns for the price of one.
A STAGE invasion, an AWOL singer and impromptu MC battles - I guess we should always have expected the unexpected with Tricky.
This Bristol show, his first hometown appearance since a foundations-troubling gig at the Victoria Rooms in 1999, was seemingly a chance to revel in former glories by playing his superb solo debut Maxinquaye in its entirety.
But nostalgia doesn’t sit well with Tricky. Instead, these songs were often given an almighty kicking, pulled apart then reconstructed.
Another unique slant here was his reunion with former partner Martina Topley-Bird who featured heavily on early Tricky records.
Their current relationship is hard to decipher on stage. There was no banter or knowing glances of any real significance which gave an added frisson to what became an increasingly bizarre set.
On its first live outing, these songs haven’t been nailed down yet - on Tricky’s part that’s probably quite deliberate - and there’s plenty of scope for taking odd tangents with his stripped-back four-piece band.
Opening with the woozy Ponderosa, they got into their stride with Aftermath, all subterranean bass and walloping drums as well as Black Steel which retained its punkish rush.
Half a dozen songs in though and they’re still hesitant on Overcome but regained momentum with an intense Hell Is Round The Corner.
Tired of sticking to the rulebook, Tricky then instigated a stage invasion, handing the mic to his youngest brother for some freestyle MCing. For Strugglin’, he jumped into the crowd and urged his band on from the front row instead.
He’s AWOL, too, for Brand New You’re Retro which saw his brother back on stage with two other Bristol MC’s for an extended jam.
By the end, the band seem unsure if Tricky’s still in the building or if he’s nipped back to Knowle West, leaving them to shuffle embarrassinglyon the spot for several minutes. He reappeared for all of five seconds for Makes Me Wanna Die before reconvening properly for set closer Christiansands.
At times, this was all over the shop. Erratic and intriguing in equal measure, this show won’t be forgotten in a hurry.