On Tuesday night Elvis Costello returned to Los Angeles, a little less than a year after his successful run of “Spinning Songbook” shows at the Wiltern Theater. Aside from the song selection, not much has changed in the way of presentation: caged go-go dancers, audience participation (overwhelmingly female) and a grandiose, carnival wheel presented a unique and varied alternative to the traditional setlist approach. Costello and his longtime backing band, The Imposters, still have plenty of energy left to give as evidenced by the marathon-like, two and a half hour set.
Although decades removed from his greatest period of cultural relevance, Costello doesn’t fall into the same conventional traps as many of his ageing peers. To begin with, his band has no auxiliary musicians and retains two out of the three members of his original 1977 Attractions lineup — drummer Pete Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve. The group haphazardly navigates its catalogue with a particular irreverence for “classic” tracks or hit singles. Aside from his definitive rendering of Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding,” no song seems sacred enough to merit required performance status.
Early on, Costello and co. delivered a lengthy rendition of “Watching The Detectives,” stretching its lilting dub rhythms into a rambling jam session. As was the case for many songs, the group expanded upon a concise framework and left Costello room for banter and repetition. “Riot Act” was an early highlight, capitalizing on the sinister verses with a truly epic release at the chorus section accented by Thomas’ tasteful tom fills and cymbal crashes.
The spinning wheel itself, though intriguing and amusing in theory, ended up being more of a distraction to the flow of the musical program than it was worth. Individual audience members awkwardly took to the stage and, after taking part in the spinning/song selection process, were strangely required to dance in a go-go cage on the far right of the stage. To put it mildly, these dancing fans were incredibly distracting to the performances.
Throughout the evening Costello consistently tested the dynamic range of his voice, from the soulful croon of “Everyday I Write The Book,” to the full-throated malice behind the Stones cover “Out of Time,” Costello showcased his versatility as a singer — an often-overlooked component of his musical skill set. He was in top form during a powerful if indulgent 15-minute reading of “So Like Candy,” and sneered his way through a break-neck version of “Radio Radio.”
The show ended with three separate encores, the last of which featured a raved-up rendition of “Peace, Love and Understanding” featuring Diana Krall on piano and Debbi and Vicki Peterson of The Bangles contributing harmony vocals. Overall the concert was a fun, if not transcendent, romp through a truly intriguing body of work.