Music

Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... - Episode 1

Wednesday - 9 pm EST/PST - Sundance Channel

Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... - 9pm EST/PST - Sundance Channel

Spectacle

Airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm
Length: 60
Subtitle: Elvis Costello With...
Network: Sundance Channel
First date: 2008-12-03
US release date: 2008-12-03
Website
Amazon

As he enters his fourth decade as a professional musician, Elvis Costello has successfully parlayed his experience as a chameleonic rock 'n' roller into some sort of self-appointed ambassadorial role. He dabbles in jazz and classical, unpacks his pop-addled brain into articles for Vanity Fair, and caters to both high and low art, all while affecting the genteel air of well-rounded elder statesman of the pop intelligentsia.

This evolution hasn't gone unnoticed by his audience; even the most forgiving of his devotees, myself included, can't help but admit that this preoccupation with tastemaking has blunted Costello's own music, which has moved from innovative to professorial throughout the last decade. And yet, it is for this very reason that the notion to give Costello his own musical talk show at this point in his career makes perfect sense.

Each week on Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... (premiering tonight at 9pm ET/PT on the Sundance Channel), Costello sits down with a featured guest or panel (all of them, save Bill Clinton, are musicians) for an in-depth discussion of their art. Some have likened the formula to Inside the Actors Studio, but as a host, Costello is more of an active participant than distant interrogator. He opens each show by covering a song written by or associated with that episode's artist, and later performs alongside the guest; there is no constant house band, and so each week brings a new lineup of musicians who perform throughout the hour.

At the start of the first episode, Costello and his assembled band -- Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher of the Imposters, with Allen Toussaint on piano and James Burton on guitar -- run through a spirited cover of "Border Song", in honor of guest Sir Elton John. (Later, John plays a funky version of Toussaint's "Working in the Coal Mine", and duets with Costello on David Ackles' "Down River" -- two unexpected choices that seem to indicate the show's willingness to diverge and surprise.) John (who, incidentally, is one of the show's executive producers) is a warm and amiable subject for Spectacle's debut -- like Costello, John is an encyclopedia of pop and rock history, and proves to be a connoisseur worthy to rival his host.

The conversation quickly moves from a Q&A to a more relaxed discussion about record collecting, musical obsession, songwriting (John insists that he and his lyricist, Bernie Taupin, are never in the same room when they are writing), and commercial success. Costello and John have professional stage names in common, a connection that yields some great insight into the adoption of a new identity -- the "suit of armor or Superman suit", as Costello calls it.

The first hour unfolds organically; after John talks at length about the impact that singer-songwriters like Laura Nyro and David Ackles had on him, it's only natural that he and Costello close out the show with an Ackles cover. It's refreshing, then, that Spectacle can deliver a thoughtful talk show about music that avoids the cheap traps of self-promotion -- these days, it seems an impossible prospect. And though it's not a total refutation of celebrity (the two middle-aged men, stuffed into their crisp suits and hard-angled glasses -- true spectacles! -- are not immune from a certain haughty elegance), Spectacle has all the makings of something to look forward to for the next 13 weeks.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".

Music

The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?

Music

Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.

Music

Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.

Music

Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.

Music

Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.

Film

Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.

Books

Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.

Music

Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.

Film

Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.