Spectacle Report

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello on his favorite artists

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello on his favorite artists

Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello jam on the SPECTACLE stage.

As someone once wisely noted, “There’s nothing you can say that can’t be sung,” and so it proved to be during the nearly four hours that Bruce Springsteen and I shared the Apollo stage for our SPECTACLE taping.

Given Bruce’s generosity in song and conversation, it’s little wonder our performance yielded two full episodes. There is very little I can add by way of recommendation. He was good enough to sing almost every song we discussed, and even one we didn’t really know.

Suffice to say that the version of “Point Blank” with which the Imposters and I opened the evening, as well as my heartfelt but vocally fatigued solo rendition of “Brilliant Disguise,” are two of my favorite Springsteen songs. Sadly, neither could be accommodated in the final edit.

I am sorrier still that Nils Lofgren’s wonderful performance of “Like Rain” – a song that I had loved since his days in Grin – could not be placed in the narrative either. I hope it emerges one day. Nils’ contribution to preparations for the evening’s collaboration between the Imposters and he and his E-Street Band colleague Roy Bitten was invaluable.

Five weeks or so after the taping, I found myself back in New York, just as Bruce and the E-Street Band were playing a two-night stand at Madison Square Garden.

It was among the shows in which entire albums were performed, and I was delighted to find that Bruce was performing what is still my favorite of all his records, The Wild, The Innocent and the E-Street Shuffle, from which he had performed “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” on SPECTACLE.

I’ve spent a lot of time with this album, and it was remarkable to hear it re-animated in every detail with such nuance and vitality. It was stranger still to find myself walking out to sing Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” during the show’s finale.

But then it occurs to me that during the SPECTACLE encounter Bruce and I found ourselves talking about other artists and their music as much as our own experiences.

In some cases this was a departure from those previous occasions when we had shared the stage. So here are some songs that you might enjoy by those very artists.

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear Songs by John Prine, Lyle Lovett, and Ray LaMontagne

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear Songs by John Prine, Lyle Lovett, and Ray LaMontagne

Elvis Costello and Lyle Lovett.

Some people imagine I have a head start with my SPECTACLE encounters simply because my guests and I share an occupation.

However, the location of the specific common ground has often been unusual or obscure.

For example, Lyle Lovett and I both contributed to Robert Altman’s motion picture, SHORT CUTS.

I wrote the song “Punishing Kiss” for Annie Ross to perform, while Lyle, rather more crucially, was featured as a sinister confectioner. So, there was not much cause for dialogue, other than to remark upon this coincidence.

When I started my career, my unfortunate face and manner of speaking, which has often been mistaken for insolent at international borders, had me frequently described as “aggressive” or – perish the thought – “surly.”

In truth, I foolishly imagined that my songs might flourish while I remained out of the spotlight, but my natural shyness and impatience to get on with my work was often incorrectly decoded.

So while Ray Lamontagne may have found it hard to imagine that SPECTACLE’s M.C. was in anyway reticent, I can appreciate how his own natural reserve could be lazily mistaken for being “difficult.”

All I can say is that throughout our conversation Ray spoke with the same singular clarity and generosity found in his songs.

For all the contrasts between our three guests, one idea stands: they are all singers who have prevailed after initial comparisons to other performers, even when these supposed resemblances were intended to be complimentary.

I’ve always believed that a lot of good songs have been written while unsuccessfully attempting to copy the style of another writer. A lot of pop music is like this; you start out with someone else’s rhythm or voice in your head, and in utterly failing to duplicate it, you find your own.

SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Elvis Costello, Musical Historian

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Elvis Costello, Musical Historian

Elvis Costello takes center stage.

With two seasons of SPECTACLE now in the can, it’s worth taking a longer look at just how Elvis Costello is able to pull off such a series. In the course of these episodes, Elvis has hosted musicians young and old, male and female, representing genres from jazz to country to soul and beyond. And not only does he need to lead a conversation with each artist, he also took it upon himself to perform with everybody.

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Favorite Songs

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Favorite Songs

Taking questions from Mary Louise Parker, Elvis Costello takes the hot seats on SPECTACLE.

As reported elsewhere, passengers on NYC’s “F” Train have been fleeing in terror after being confronted by a frightening countenance leering from every poster along subway platforms. Some say he’s akin to Spencer Tracy’s “Mr. Hyde.”

At times like this, I feel as if I may have missed my vocation. Perhaps I should have been an Albanian Politburo Chairman or Millennial Cult Leader. Nothing else could possibly justify the kind of coverage SPECTACLE has enjoyed among the advertising space of the five boroughs.

Perhaps these graphic enticements may have even worked, or you might not be reading this now, except to avert your eyes from other horrors.

This episode of SPECTACLE was to have been hosted by our Executive Producer, Sir Elton John, a chance to mirror his Season One “guest host” appearance with my wife, Diana Krall.

Unfortunately, ill health intervened, and at very short notice we were extremely fortunate and grateful to have Mary-Louise Parker take part in an utterly different, but equally enjoyable, conversation.

This is the column in which I have, up until now, listed a few of my favorite cuts by our SPECTACLE guests. In this instance, however, it seems immodest and absurd to propose my own songs.

Thankfully, television is something less grand and permanent than an inscription on a marble slab, and something slightly in advance of, in the words of Winston Churchill, “a tuppenha’ penny Punch and Judy show.”

Meanwhile, “Favorite Records” change like alibis.

So, here are five records you may enjoy. I’ll write quickly before they change again.

SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Unsung Heroes: Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, and Jesse Winchester

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Unsung Heroes: Richard Thompson, Nick Lowe, and Jesse Winchester

Elvis Costello shares a moment with Richard Thompson. In addition to using the platform of SPECTACLE as a way to champion some of his favorite young musicians, Elvis Costello has also turned the show’s spotlight to several underappreciated veteran artists. This season, a trio of singer-songwriters whose names might not be familiar to all viewers…

SPECTACLE REPORT:  ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Elvis Costello and Collaboration

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…Elvis Costello and Collaboration

Elvis Costello in the hot seat with Mary Louise Parker on SPECTACLE When I spoke to Elvis Costello just before the launch of this season of SPECTACLE, he said that by the final tapings, he knew that he wasn’t sounding his best. “My voice wasn’t in the greatest shape by then,” he said. “There’s a…

SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear Tracks Levon Helm, Allen Toussaint, Richard Thompson and Nick Lowe

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear Tracks Levon Helm, Allen Toussaint, Richard Thompson and Nick Lowe

Elvis Costello with Nick Lowe on SPECTACLE BUILDING THE BAND This was one of the more chaotic SPECTACLE evenings. It was also one of the most joyful. We began with the simple idea of constructing a one-time-only band of guitar, piano, bass and drums, each member having taken some kind of cue from another somewhere…

SPECTACLE REPORT:  ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… Southern Knights: Levon Helm and Allen Toussaint

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… Southern Knights: Levon Helm and Allen Toussaint

The legendary Levon Helm at the drums on SPECTACLE. On this week’s SPECTACLE, Elvis Costello assembles a band of musical legends. At its heart are two artists who act as living links to the traditions of the American South – drummer Levon Helm and pianist Allen Toussaint. Arkansas-born Helm, best known as one of the…

SPECTACLE REPORT:  ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… Sheryl Crow on Guitar Pull

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… Sheryl Crow on Guitar Pull

Sheryl Crow on SPECTACLE: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… The four artists who join Elvis Costello this week for SPECTACLE’s second annual “guitar pull” are all extraordinary singers and exceptional songwriters. But with all due respect to Neko Case, Ron Sexsmith, and Jesse Winchester, only one of them has been able to strike the balance that Elvis…

SPECTACLE REPORT:  Elvis Costello's Must-Hear "Guitar Pull" Tracks

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear "Guitar Pull" Tracks

From left, Jesse Winchester, Neko Case, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow and Ron Sexsmith on SPECTACLE’S “Guitar Pull.” RON SEXSMITH I’ve known Ron since just after the release of his first record. He’s probably gotten tired of reading my name in a paragraph with his simply because I’m among those who think it extraordinary that at…

SPECTACLE REPORT:  Elvis Costello's Must-Hear U2 Tracks

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello's Must-Hear U2 Tracks

Elvis Costello hosts Bono and The Edge on SPECTACLE. Our esteemed host has a discerning ear. For the second season of Spectacle, we asked him to choose a track or two from his guests’ sizable songbooks. Not “the greatest” or most iconic tunes necessarily, but pieces that have always knocked him out. We’ll update the…

SPECTACLE REPORT:  ELVIS COSTELLO WITH…  All New Season Kicks Off with Bono and The Edge

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… All New Season Kicks Off with Bono and The Edge

Elvis Costello performs with U2′s Bono and The Edge on SPECTACLE.

In 2001, a few weeks after the September 11th attacks had stunned the world, high in the sky somewhere between Montreal and Toronto, guitarist The Edge sat back in his seat on U2’s private “ElevationAir” jet and spoke to me about the band’s personal bonds. “We’re not like so many groups you hear about, where the members don’t ever talk offstage or out of the studio,” he said. “It’s not like that with us—quite the opposite. If we end up at a party, at the end of the night you’ll probably find the four of us off in a corner hanging out.”

Let’s side aside the musical contributions, the classic songs and unforgettable performances that U2 have delivered over the years. If you just consider their personal histories, these four Irishmen have boldly gone where no band has gone before. There has never been another group whose line-up has remained intact for over thirty years. Since forming in Dublin in 1976 at the Mount Temple Comprehensive School (a site the Edge revisited in the recent guitar documentary IT MIGHT GET LOUD), these same four guys have shared a stage all the way from drummer Larry Mullen, Jr.’s kitchen to sold-out stadiums around the globe.

SPECTACLE REPORT:  Elvis Costello appears on THE LEONARD LOPATE SHOW

Article: SPECTACLE REPORT: Elvis Costello appears on THE LEONARD LOPATE SHOW

Elvis Costello spoke with WNYC’s Leonard Lopate about his music and the upcoming season 2 of SPECTACLE: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… Listen Here:

Elvis Costello on Colbert and Fallon – Countdown to SPECTACLE Season 2!

Article: Elvis Costello on Colbert and Fallon – Countdown to SPECTACLE Season 2!

Elvis Costello, host of SPECTACLE: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… on Sundance Channel Catch Elvis Costello on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report airing Thursday, November 19th and in a jam-out session with The Roots on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon airing on Friday, November 20th. Costello will be on to discuss the return of his music/talk…

Final Words On Spectacle Season One

Article: Final Words On Spectacle Season One

So, this is the end of the line for Spectacle’s inaugural season. It started with Elton John and wraps up with Smokey Robinson. They’ve had a few hits between them. Elton and Smokey book-ended a veritable who’s who of singers, songwriters and giant personalities (including a President of the United States), thoughtful and passionate all…

Elvis Costello and Soul Music

Article: Elvis Costello and Soul Music

THE RHYTHM AND THE BLUES The guest for the season’s final episode of SPECTACLE is someone whom Elvis Costello has referred to as “daunting.” But Smokey Robinson has actually been called far more serious things than that; Bob Dylan once described him as “America’s greatest living poet.” It was a bit of hyperbole on Dylan’s…

Elvis Costello and Musical Romance

Article: Elvis Costello and Musical Romance

Not-So-Silly Love Songs To avoid a potentially awkward situation, on this week’s edition of SPECTACLE, Elvis Costello turns over the host’s chair to the show’s Executive Producer, Elton John. This is because the guest this time around is none other than Elvis’s wife, the acclaimed jazz pianist and vocalist Diana Krall. But since we have…

On Producing Spectacle

Article: On Producing Spectacle

Of all the possibilities in front of us when we started making Spectacle, I’m not sure Elvis covering Steely Dan would have been on my most likely list – but it turned out to be one of my favorite musical performances that our host delivered in the series. The occasion was the opening of this…

21st Century Elvis Costello

Article: 21st Century Elvis Costello

“I’m very glad to be doing the job I’m doing, which is playing music in front of people,” Elvis Costello recently said. “Making records—it used to be the thing that made the motor go round. Now I just sort of make a record and let it go.” In the New World Order of the music…

Elvis Costello and All That Jazz

Article: Elvis Costello and All That Jazz

A few weeks ago—when Norah Jones, Rosanne Cash, John Mellencamp, and Kris Krisofferson visited SPECTACLE—we looked at Elvis Costello’s relationship to American music. We set aside jazz, though, for this week. And there is perhaps no single figure that better represents the range and possibilities of jazz than Herbie Hancock, this week’s guest. Over the…

Renee Fleming and Elvis Costello

Article: Renee Fleming and Elvis Costello

I had the good fortune to attend a Renee Fleming recital a few years ago, and it may have been the best musical experience I’ve ever had. The divine American soprano was accompanied by the French pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet, with whom she’d made a recording. Thibaudet was fantastic, and the two of them made…

The Classical Elvis Costello

Article: The Classical Elvis Costello

Of the wide variety of guests appearing on this season of SPECTACLE, Renee Fleming—world-renowned star of the Metropolitan Opera—is probably the most surprising. But as the episode reveals, Fleming and Elvis Costello share more common ground than might initially seem apparent. The Pennsylvania-born soprano trained as a jazz singer, and has recorded with the likes…

Elvis Costello and Amazing Guests

Article: Elvis Costello and Amazing Guests

I’ll try to keep a lid on the hyperbole here, but I have to say the group of singers and songwriters on this week’s show is quite a collection. Kris Kristofferson, Rosanne Cash, John Mellencamp and Norah Jones – that’s a lot of talent on one stage. Oh, and there’s that Costello character QB’ing the…

Elvis Costello, American Idol

Article: Elvis Costello, American Idol

As luck would have it, this edition of SPECTACLE turns out to be the perfect episode for the week in which the United States installs a new President. Elvis Costello’s guests this time around share powerful ties to the roots and heritage of American music—country, most obviously, but also folk, blues, and jazz. Kris Kristofferson…

Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright

Article: Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright. Hey, just the name is cool. I’ve always thought it helps to have a cool name if you want to be a rock star. I know, Rufus isn’t a “rock” star, but he is a “rock star”. Anyway, he’d have a leg up just on the strength of the name, but when you…