Filing in with the chattering masses, it’s clear Costello is going all-out in his vaudevillian theme. A third of the stage is occupied by his Spinning Wheel of Song (aka ‘the showbiz marvel of our age’) there is a small ‘society bar’, a trompe-l'œil backdrop and the ‘Hostage to a Fortune Go-Go Cage’ a dancing ‘cage’ with strings of beads for bars.
Looking surprisingly at home, Joe Camilleri (whose song So Young Costello covered in 1987) brings one-time JoJo Zep and Black Sorrow members George Butrumlis and Jeff Burstin on accordion and guitar to flesh out his tunes. Camilleri’s own compositions sound right at home next to some choice covers, though it’s the set-closing cover of Willy DeVille’s No Such Pain as Love that highlight’s Camilleri’s Van Morrison-esque delivery and the trio’s musical chops.
With minimal fuss, The Imposters (a four-piece including original Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve and drummer Pete Thomas) and go-go dancer Miss Kelly (aka ‘the former Mother Superior of Our Lady of Perpetual Torment’) unleash a seamless burst of I Hope You’re Happy Now, Nick Lowe’s Heart of the City, Uncomplicated and Radio Radio, before stopping to say hello. Donning a top hat and grabbing a cane, Costello introduces himself as Napoleon Dynamite (a character he invented in the early 80s) and draws the first audience member up who spins the wheel, selects Oliver’s Army and is seated on stage with a drink. Nieve’s complex keyboard playing is a genuine marvel and it’s rare for a talent this big to be given the freedom he is to pluck motifs from songs and reinvent whole sections of others, almost teasing our memories.
Next audience member up is Sam who spins All Time Doll and chooses to go-go dance in the ‘cage’ in a manner that causes Costello’s rich, expressive voice to drift off-mic and crack. With Sam happily back in the crowd, couple Erin and Michael spin up The River in Reverse and I Want You, both showcasing Costello’s penchant for slipping better-known songs into his own (in this case Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, and a later segue from Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes into Purple Rain is a genuine laugh-out-loud moment). For an artist renown for well-constructed songs that reward close attention, placing them in a setting designed to offer as many distractions as possible is odd, as is engaging with that most unpredictable of variables; the public. Soon, an extremely starstruck Belle spins Alison, and Costello uses wit and a genteel disposition to avoid Morrissey-like scenes of mawkish adoration.
Though due for a brief encore, the set is barely 2/3rds done as a brace of classics follow; Chelsea, High Fidelity a cover of the Stones’ Out of Time, Watching the Detectives, Pump it Up and a closing What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace Love and Understanding? Though Costello sometimes fumbles with the guitar parts and plays with lyrics in an offhand way, his wry wit and deft charm fuels the show. He appears to be having as much fun as we are, which really isn’t that hard.