Monday, December 23, 2013

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Zepp Namba, Osaka 15 December 2013 Spinning Songbook Show

The ancient Romans searched through the entrails of sacrificed animals looking for omens, and as we sat waiting for last night's show, I found myself pondering the significance, if any, of two items that were probably of no significance at all, but when you've got half an hour's wait, that's the sort of thing you do after you've had a photo taken with the Wheel in the background.

Actually, we were lucky to be there at all.

If The Supervisor hadn't asked what time the show started we might have rocked up at least half an hour after the actual commencement. We'd had lunch with The Sister and The Rowdy Niece, and I'd answered a question about starting time with a seven-thirty, omitting an I think and failing to note the expression of surprise from someone who's rather more au fait with the way things run over here than her sister, who has spent the last twenty-odd years in Australia.

Most of the conversation was, predictably, in Japanese, so I didn't pick up the that's early for a Sunday (or words to that effect).

We also learned that the ¥500 drink charge we'd complained about earlier is, in effect, standard operating practice in these parts.

In any case, Madam checked at around four-thirty, we were out the door shortly thereafter and around an hour later we were seated in row G, enjoying the different ambience at a different venue.

The ¥500 drink fee hadn't caused quite the same resentment now that we were aware it was par for the course, and once we were inside it was obvious that Zepp Namba is a far more relaxed environment than the Ex in  Roppongi. The entrance was entirely devoid of people yelling instructions through bullhorns, and there were no PA announcements reminding us that photographs were forbidden.

I joined a stream of punters getting photos taken in front of the iconic item and was on my way back to the seats when I noted a familiar-looking bearded gentleman thanking someone who'd taken a happy snap. "Strange," I thought. "Looks like Steve. must be his brother."

As the figure headed off I remarked on the remarkable resemblance, and Madam pointed out that he'd been stopped by a couple of Japanese girls and was signing autographs.

Obviously, Steve...

I wasn't sure why someone who'd done dozens of these shows would want a photographic record of his presence there, which raises all sorts of avenues for speculation, and it was around that point I noticed there'd been some changes on the Wheel.

For a start, all the album bonuses, the King's Ransom and Imperial Chocolate and their ilk were gone, replaced by individual songs (In Another Room, River in Reverse, Big Tears, Human Hands), and what seemed to be a new Ghost Jackpot.

So maybe that was it. Alternatively, if the titles up there are the result of some sort of EC-Steve-Whoever collaboration you might want a record.

Or it might just be a part of the pre-concert ritual.

But what was obvious from the time the ensemble hit the stage was an obvious degree of relaxation, which might be down to the fact that the TV appearance was behind them, but quite possibly related to the change of venue.

As noted, Zepp Namba had a much more relaxed vibe in front of stage, and the same thing quite possibly applies to those areas we don't get to see. In any case, Elvis expressed a liking for the place.

It was obvious, once the Wheel segments started, that there'd been a change in the selection policy. Elvis' first foray into the crowd produced a pair of sisters, one sporting an Elvis t-shirt and the other a Liverpool FC shirt and supporter's scarf. Obvious fans, who obviously knew how to attract the man's attention.

Subsequent spinners included a couple who had She as their wedding song. That was their request, and a bit of manipulation on Elvis' part delivered the Joanna Jackpot, which, predictably, concluded with their request.

The Hammer of Song segment produced a woman in a kimono who rang the bell once the right hammer had been produced and requested 45, rather than one of the obvious suspects.

She sat in the Celebrity lounge, obviously having a good time and happily singing along to Radio Radio.

A final crowd excursion in the Help Me extension of Watching the Detectives produced a Belgian gent in a hammer and sickle t-shirt and an attractive Japanese lass who either arrived together or were very rapidly becoming quite good friends.

And, with the more interesting selection of spinners came an increased use of the go-go cage, though no one matched the terpsichorean tantalization of the lovely Dixie de la Fontaine.

And from Row G it was interesting to watch (out of the corner of the eye, of course) what happened as The Mysterious Josephine went out into the audience. One gathers that part of her brief, in the Stage Left aisle, involves encouraging the crowd reaction. You also get the distinct impression that she has someone selected just in case. A Japanese couple spent a long time cued to go on, passed over (quite literally) in Help Me, and ended up missing their shot at the stars when the show came to a relatively premature end.

Actually, it wasn't that premature, and one suspects Elvis was starting to have some vocal issues. The volume definitely seemed to have been cranked up through the latter portions of the encore in a way it hadn't been in Tokyo. He definitely seemed to be straining in Strict Time.

In any case, after the lengthy second set, the crowd persisted with calls for an encore, right up to the point where the stage crew started removing items from the Wheel.


Elvis expressing his inner Jerry Lee Lewis when there were apparent guitar issues during Mystery Dance.

My All Time Doll and Femme Fatale.

New Amsterdam > You've Got To Hide Your Love Away.

And, with that, it's off to Kyoto for a couple of days off bare trees in temple courtyards before we make our way back to the wilds of Northern Australia and an appointment with the same outfit in Sydney in April.

I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart of the City
Mystery Dance (Elvis took a chorus on the grand piano, guitar issues?)
Spin 1: My All Time Doll
Spin 2: I Can Sing A Rainbow jackpot
Green Shirt
Red Shoes
Almost Blue
My All Time Doll
Spin 3: So Like Candy
Come the Meantimes
New Amsterdam > You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
Femme Fatale
Spin 4: Happy Jackpot
I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down
High Fidelity
Spin 5: Joanna Jackpot
Talking in the Dark
Shot With His Own Gun

Spin 6: I Want You
Walk Us Uptown

Hammer of Song: 45
Radio Radio
Cinco Minutos Con Vos
Watching the Detectives > Help Me
Spin 7: Time Jackpot
Spin 8: Ghost Jackpot
Sugar Won't Work
Beyond Belief
Out of Time
Strict Time
I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea
Peace Love & Understanding

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Ex Theatre, Roppongi, Tokyo 13 December 2013 Spinning Songbook Show

A glance down the set list from the third show in the Tokyo run has to suggest one of three things. Or two, with a proviso for a third. Perhaps we'll get a little additional light cast on these things at the fourth show, when the venue changes to Osaka's Zepp Namba.

It's hard, having seen all three shows, to avoid the conclusion that the Spinning Songbook concept hasn't played out as well as it was supposed to in these parts. With no Wheel action between the end of the first set and the Hammer of Song segment that opened the second encore, that's a fairly obvious conclusion.

Last night, on the other hand, was going out live to air on Japanese Pay TV, so it's just possible the decision was made to keep the rest of the show within what you might call normal parameters rather than bring in the risk factors that come into play where the Wheel and the selection of audience members to spin it are concerned. Don't want to upstage the star of the show, do we?

There was a degree of what might have been with the couple Josephine hauled up on stage for the Hammer of Song. Where just about everybody else, either singly or jointly, had been female, here we had a bloke who looked like a character. Pork pie hat, white coat, Spinning Songbook T-shirt, girlfriend sporting the same shirt. You'd look at him and label him obvious fan with possible oddball tendencies.

After the jokey preliminaries with the girlfriend and the fake hammer, the guy gets the real one, hits the bell and, given his choice from the Wheel, selects the Joker, which equates to a choice of any song on the Wheel.

Which, of course, he’d already qualified for through the Hammer.

The selection turned out to be Every Day I Write the Book, and through the track the two off them end in the Go-Go Cage, encouraged into Philly Soul/Motown moves by Josephine and Dixie de La Fontaine.

Then they spend the rest of the set with visible applause and reaction from Fan boy, in a fairly stark contrast to just about everyone else who had been hauled up on stage over the three days.

Actually, all the Hammer of Song people have had a bit of character about them.

Unlike the previous two nights, we actually ended up with four segments: the main Spinning Songbook set following the full five song Overture, where the highlight was an impromptu God Give Me Strength called from the middle of the audience (Mr Nieve. God Give Me Strength if you please). It wasn't much visually if you were up in the balcony, but the vocal was belted out with appropriate intensity, and the whole thing must have looked fantastic on television. But even in the balcony, you still wanted to be there as the heart and soul got poured into the performance.

Almost as good was an impassioned I Want You, delivered as the result of the final spin.

Chelsea, Walk Us Uptown and Pump It Up rounded the set off, and it's starting to look like Elvis has found another default show closer.

Otherwise he'd have saved PiU for the end of the third encore wouldn't he?

Or maybe not. The idea may have been to get the punters, who tended (as previously noted) to be rather reserved in the yelling and foot stomping departments, delivering an appropriate response in the Encore Stakes.

While I'd reckoned on what followed as the First Encore, the Costello site divides the Elvis and Steve mini-set off as an Interlude, with the full band selection from Accidents to My New Haunt as the Encore. Same horse, different jockey. What was interesting, in this regard, was the absence of the semi-acoustic bracket with Slow Drag for Josephine and Jimmie Standing In the Rain, which in turn raises the question of the TV broadcast, and what it was supposed to achieve.

It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when these matters were being sorted.

In any case, regardless of whether the Wheel did what it was supposed to, and the policies involved with selecting the spinners, it was obvious from the start that the band was on last night. There was just that little bit of extra oomph, the sort of thing you expect when there's an occasion that needs to be risen to.

As far as the set list was concerned you'd have to reckon it had been deliberately shaped to present most of the facets of the Elvis back catalogue, though the Americana element was conspicuous by its absence, and the current album got a substantial work over though, of course, it's not an Imposters project.

What will be most interesting is the question of whether the show ends up appearing in DVD or some other form. There's a Spinning Songbook package out in the market, there's no certainty the market can handle two of 'em, but one thing's certain.

If and when it does appear, I'll be in for a copy.

The show rocked mightily when it needed to rock, rolled through a fair selection of the Costello style palette and underlined the notion that the Wise Up Ghost material isn't as far removed from the rest of the man's catalogue as some might think.

So, with a show to go, we'll see what happens in Osaka, where we'll be away from the need to sort things out for theTV special.

I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart of the City
Mystery Dance
Radio Radio
Spin 1: So Like Candy
Come the Meantimes
Double Spin
Spin 2: Tokyo Storm Warning (played after Girl jackpot)
Spin 3: Girl jackpot
This Year's Girl
Party Girl
Girls Talk
Tokyo Storm Warning
Spin 4: She (ended in the crowd)
God Give Me Strength (sung entirely off stage)
Spin 5: I Want You
Walk us UpTown
Pump it Up

Encore 1:
I Still Have That Other Girl
Shot With his Own Gun
Accidents Will Happen
Less Than Zero
Cinco Minutos Con Vos
Tripwire > Peace Love & Understanding (Slow)
My New Haunt

Encore 2:
Hammer of Song: Every Day I Write The Book
I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down
High Fidelity
Watching the Detectives
Sugar Won't Work
Peace Love & Understanding (fast)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Ex Theatre, Roppongi, Tokyo 12 December 2013 Spinning Songbook Show

It mightn't quite be living the dream, but I was sitting in the restaurant at a Tokyo hotel around six-thirty last night thinking life doesn't get much better than this. I was wrapping up a plate of pasta alla vongole bianco, with accompanying glass of prosecco, having wandered back from Tokyo's best oyster bar, and a glass of Yebisu that washed down four prime examples of Japan's best oysters.

And it was time to head out the door for the second of three Elvis Costello Spinning Songbook shows at a theatre a matter of a couple of hundred metres down Roppongi Street.

No, it doesn't get much better than this, but, occasionally it does. Not much better, and again, the unexpected lift came in the encores where last night's performance produced a Hammer of Song request for Church Underground, a response that this band doesn't know that song and a decision to do it solo.

This time around, an excursion into the crowd during the Help Me segue out of Watching the Detectives produced what looked like an awestruck high school girl who needed assistance from The Mysterious Josephine to ring the bell.

I might be wrong about the high school girl, and awestruck might be wide of the mark as well, but the key point here is that she didn't look like someone who'd be conversant with the depths of Mr Costello's extensive back catalogue.

The request? Having managed, with assistance, to ring the bell, she asked for The Imposter, and followed it with the news that the request was for my lover because it's his favourite song.

Cue stunned looks all round from an outfit that takes its name from the song. An on-line query when I made it back to the hotel room reveals the song was last played in May 2008. So, five and a half years is plenty of time to forget how it goes.

But it did appear.

One suspects there's an autocue in operation, and they needed a window to enter the data. A final spin of the wheel produced an Imperial Chocolate bonus (Poor Napoleon, Shabby Doll). With The Imposter and Sugar Won't Work to follow it was a great way to wind up what had been another excellent show.

Significantly, Elvis left the stage with a remark along the lines of See you tomorrow night. It'll be on television. We'll all be famous.

On that basis,  you'd have to see these two shows as trial runs for a concert that's going to go live to air from seven-thirty this evening, so one's inclined to filter the last two nights through that perspective and make a few predictions.

There's no doubt about the opening Overture, the four or five song blast that had Uncomplicated slotted in the middle of I Hope You're Happy Now, Heart of the City, Mystery Dance and Radio Radio.

It's also fairly obvious he's working towards a particular demographic when it comes to the wheel spinners. They tend to be young, female and almost invariably overwhelmed by the fact that they're up there on stage in front of all those people.

I was hoping that he'd grab one of the geekier types I spotted in the foyer, which might have produced some interesting results, but in this setting the star of the show probably doesn't want to be upstaged.

The first spin produced the Girl bonus (This Year's Girl, Party Girl, Girls Talk, and the Lennon-Macartney Girl), and the next two delivered She, with comments about the original French lyric by Charles Aznavour, and Monkey to Man, followed by an impromptu Tokyo Storm Warning and Alison > The Wind Cries Mary > Somewhere Over the Rainbow > There's A Place For Us. We know they're impromptu because that's how they're tagged in the official set list.

For me, things really took off with the next spin, God Give Me Strength, complete with masterful piano from Mr Nieve and a venture out into the audience for the final verse or two. One of my favourite Elvis songs, delivered with total passion.

That was the first of a double spin, with the second selection, Accidents Will Happen deferred until after Spin 6, which threw up Tokyo Storm Warning. The respin added New Lace Sleeves to the set list.

I thought we were in for the first encore break after Accidents, but Wise Up Ghost and I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea rounded things off nicely, and the crowd reaction, while not as restrained as the previous night, made me suspect we were in for what amounted to a second set rather than a string of encores, particularly when the next cluster of songs concluded with Peace Love & Understanding.

In between the guitar action centred around the acoustic with Ascension Day followed by Good Year For the Roses, Suit of Lights, Slow Drag for Josephine, Jimmie Standing In The Rain and a quite magnificent Shipbuilding. The young gentleman who'd been hauled up on stage for the double spin had named it as his request, missed getting it by a whisker (Accidents lobbed instead) but ended up having the wish fulfilled.

This acoustic based set based around Josephine and Jimmie seems to be standard operating practice, so you can probably pencil it in for tonight's show as well.

Viceroys Row and Oliver's Army preceded PLU, and raised the suspicion that we weren't going any further. Elvis looked at his watch towards the end of the latter, obviously checking how long they had before the curfew or scheduled end of show.

And based on the degree of audience response you mightn't have been surprised to see the house lights come on at that stage. I was mildly surprised to note two gentlemen in front of me who had been applauding enthusiastically throughout sitting back and conversing as if the next bracket of songs was a foregone conclusion.

Well, it probably was, but I thought that part of the game was to act as if the second, third, fourth and fifth encores are the result of crowd appreciation. The appearance of someone coming up to replace Elvis' drink container as soon as the band departs the stage is, of course, a dead set give away.

Maybe he needs to wait until Elvis and company return. Surely he can skirt around Davey on his way to the little riser that holds Mr Costello's vocal lubrication.

But that's a minor gripe. The return that was always on once you saw the refill started with Watching the Detectives, which morphed into Help Me with another foray into the crowd that brought the young lady up on stage for the Hammer of Song and the request for The Imposter.

The convenient fiction of needing time to remember how it goes produced a final spin, and an Imperial Chocolate bonus, which turned out very tasty indeed. Poor Napoleon, Shabby Doll and The Imposter, followed by Sugar Won't Work brought things to a close in a show that, for once, didn't end with Pump It Up.

I can't say I was disappointed by the omission.

Viewed as a whole, a step up from Wednesday night, with the promise of something extra special with the live to air TV tonight. It says something about Costello's ambition to take a fly by the seat of the pants thing like a Spinning Songbook show and go live to air on a major pay TV network.

With two practice runs under the belt, tonight's show threatens to pull out all the plugs if he can wangle the right participants for the Wheel segments.

I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart of the City
Mystery Dance
Radio Radio
Spin 1: Girl Bonus
This Year's Girl
Party Girl
Girl Talk
Come the Meantimes
Spin 2: She
Spin 3: Monkey To Man
Tokyo Storm Warning 
Alison > The Wind Cries Mary > Somewhere Over the Rainbow > There's A Place For Us
Double Spin
Spin 4: God Give Me Strength
Spin 5: Accidents Will Happen (deferred)
Spin 6: Tokyo Storm Warning. Respin: New Lace Sleeves
Accidents Will Happen
Walk Us Uptown 
I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea

Encore 1:
Ascension Day
Good Year For the Roses
Suit of Lights
Slow Drag for Josephine
Jimmie Standing In The Rain
Viceroys Row
Oliver's Army
Peace Love & Understanding

Encore 2:
Watching the Detectives > Help Me
Hammer of Song request for The Imposter resulted in baffled looks all around and another spin while Elvis "tried to remember how it went."
Spin 7: Imperial Chocolate bonus
Poor Napoleon
Shabby Doll
The Imposter
Sugar Won't Work

Parting remark along the lines of See you tomorrow night. It'll be on television. we'll all be famous.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Ex Theatre, Roppongi, Tokyo 11 December 2013 (Spinning Songbook Show)

 You can take the primary school teacher out of the classroom (and it has been just over eight years), but you can never get away from your past. Lying in bed waiting to drift off after a great show in a venue with some major irritants I was reminded of one of the old top-level organisers that ran under the moniker of PMI.

That’s Plus, Minus, Interesting, which has, in this case been transformed, through The Good, The Bad and The Ugly  into The Great, The Could Have Been Better and The Downright Ugly.
Starting with the latter:

The Downright Ugly:
Which has nothing to do with Elvis, but everything to do with the venue's approach to the punters. Now, some of this seems to be standard operating practice when it comes to concerts in Japan, but three major gripes:
Getting into the venue: where every other venue I've been to had a ground floor point of entry. Here, rather than walking in through the door that opens off the vestibule at the front of the building, we were directed up a flight of steps, across the top of the building and back down a flight of steps into a marshalling area that is on the other side of the door that was the logical point of entry and was, it seemed, for the well connected. The average punter, who paid for his or her ticket had to go via the Cape.
Crowd control: Once in, the punters are herded by marshals with bullhorns operating at maximum volume to a point where you are up for:
The extra slug. A compulsory ¥500 slug for a drink, which might be standard operating practice in Japan, but had my Japanese partner complaining bitterly. Along with the bullhorn marshalling, all this meant that when retook our seats we were somewhat less than gruntled.

Could Have Been Better:
The punters brought up to spin the wheel didn't hit any sparks to set things off on a tangent, apart from the Hammer of Song in the encore, who delivered a request for Church Underground and got it, despite Elvis' this band doesn't know that song.
Overall, the people up there for the spin seemed overawed, and the language factor probably didn't help. But the odd eccentric would have added to the fun.

Applause at the end of the main set was enthusiastic but subdued. I suspect Elvis thought cranking things up to the point where he could justify a third encore would be difficult. You wouldn't expect a polite crowd used to showing courtesy and respect in public to go hooting and hollering, stamping the feet and yelling for More. I was tempted, myself, but I thought it would be impolite to those around me.

This, after all, is a country where, over the space of around six weeks stretching over three visits I have NEVER heard someone talking loudly over a mobile phone in public, let alone delivering a frank, obscenity laden recount of last night's contretemps with the now ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.

The first encore was, as a result, more like a second set that combined what would have gone into two encores in other cases. In any case, he managed to work things to the point where they could go off and come back for the regulation thunderous finish.

The Excellent:
Once inside the venue it was obvious there wasn't a bad seat, at least as far as the balcony was concerned. Sound was good, clear, loud but not overwhelming. From the balcony,  you got a chance to see things you would miss otherwise (e.g. Steve's keyboard work).
Elvis was obviously thinking on his feet (see above) and seemed determined to deliver. Which he did in spades.
Talking in the Dark.
The Wise Up Ghost material in a band setting.
Encore 1, from Church Underground onwards. Thanks, Ayako!!

I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart of the City
Mystery Dance
Radio Radio
Spin 1: Town Crier
Spin 2: Beyond Belief > You Belong To Me
Spin 3: Town Crier (respin) > Joanna Jackpot:
I Still Have That Other Girl
Talking In The Dark
Spin 4: Happy bonus:
I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down
High Fidelity
Double spin
Spin 5: I Can Sing A Rainbow Jackpot:
Green Shirt
Red Shoes
Blue Chair
Spin 6: Monkey to Man
Country Darkness
"You wanna hear a new song?" My New Haunt
Tripwire > Peace Love & Understanding (slow)

Encore 1:
Every Day I Write the Book
Hammer of Songs: Church Underground
Slow Drag with Josephine
My All Time Doll
Jimmie Standing In The Rain

Encore 2:
I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea
Sugar Won't Work
I Want You
Pump It Up
Peace Love & Understanding (Fast)