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.
“Jokes about olive oil! You don’t get that with Frankie Boyle do you?”
Yes, Chris Addison is unapologetically middle class, but that’s not to say this is a man without fire in his belly. Dispensing with the themed shows of previous tours, Addison railed passionately against all manner of pet hates here.
David Cameron came in for a particularly vicious kicking as the coalition government’s failings were laid bare for all to see. This was far from an intellectual exercise in political finger-wagging though. Addison’s punchlines were almost always on the money and his more tangential flights of fancy showcased a sharp and inventive mind.
An anti-monarchy setpiece saw him singing the praises of Prince Philip – at least finding some merit in his devil-may-care attitude and hilariously outrageous rudeness.
After a mid-90s dip in popularity of the monarchy following a certain traffic accident in a Paris tunnel, Addison ruefully noted their new-found resurgence with Kate Middleton, driven by a media “desperate to create a new Diana – to replace the one they broke…” Ouch.
Addison’s observational targets throughout didn’t pass into unchartered territory by any means but they were cannily structured and well mined for full comic potential. In a routine on the problems of teenagers today he confiscated one girl’s Blackberry in the front row: “Is it important that you text right now?” he asked. She’s 19. Point proved.
And material on last summer’s riots was nicely mixed with a decidedly Bristolian flavour. One standout riff found the action relocated to Clifton as locals stole only Farrow & Ball paint to “finally finish off the billiards room.”
Addison’s a seasoned stand-up and obviously knows Bristol well enough to go much further than the usual hackneyed West Country yokel shtick we’re lumbered with when others vainly try to pretend to make an effort at local jokes.
Elsewhere, he flitted seamlessly from science and fashion to Groupon vouchers and his own private comedy Chinese accent he keeps himself entertained with at home. Taking off the thematic straitjacket suits Addison, this free-flowing scattergun set was a belter.
IT’S a friendship that stretches back more than 40 years which has endured superstardom, band break-ups and lashings of rock’n’roll excess.
Moonlighting away from long-term collaborator Stephen Stills and on-off (mostly off, actually) bandmate Neil Young, Crosby and Nash have never strayed too far from each other since forming Crosby, Stills and Nash in 1968.
And their very essence was crystallised on two Nash-penned songs which featured at the close of this nigh-on three-hour show. The fiery anti-war protest of Military Madness and the hippy idealism of singalong Teach Your Children are at the crux of what they’ve always been about.
But first, some fantastic nuggets from the pomp years of the first two CSN albums and early solo outings. In fact, Crosby went back even further back for set opener Eight Miles High from his tenure with The Byrds before treating us to the Woodstock generational anthem Long Time Gone.
Nash’s regret-tinged I Used To Be A King and delicate Just A Song Before I Go showcased his trademark ear for melody while Don’t Dig Here and Critical Mass/Wind On The Water shone a spotlight on the pair’s anti-nuclear power stance and environmental concerns.
Of course, it was Crosby and Nash’s spine-tingling vocal blend which was the main event here – and they still sound remarkably pristine. Their four-piece band, which included Crosby’s son James Raymond on keyboards, never got in the way of those stellar harmonies. Why mess with musical alchemy, after all?
After the interval, a surprise addition to the setlist came in the shape of The Hollies’ single Bus Stop before Nash wheeled out another old favourite with Our House and Crosby displayed his neat fingerpicking guitar style on Guinnevere.
There was plenty of fire in their bellies throughout. In Your Name blasted religious hatred and corporate greed was given a hefty kicking on They Want It All.
And these guys sure knew how to close out a show. Orleans was another haunting harmony vocal collage while Nash’s dramatic Cathedral worked as a perfect counterpoint. Almost Cut My Hair transported us back to a time when follicle choices were a political statement in themselves and a storming version of Wooden Ships was terrific.
Age hasn’t withered their vocals one iota and these are great, great songs. An epic show and an epic win.