You may recall a time this past summer when I was as giddy as a schoolgirl about having met Elvis Costello…not only because I’m a huge fan, but also because it gave me a chance to redeem myself for the fool I made of myself the first time I’d met him. The reason the summer encounter came about was Elvis’s appearance at the TCA Press Tour, where he had turned up to promote his then-upcoming Sundance Channel series, “Spectacle: Elvis Costello with…”
That was July. Now, it’s December…and the series has finally come up.
The premise of the show is, to simplify it to the most basic pop culture terms, like “Inside the Actors Studio,” except the focus is on music rather than film. The good news, however, is that Elvis Costello is rather less fawning than James Lipton, and the guests – at least for the most part – appear to have been taken not from the latest Billboard charts but, rather, from Elvis’s own rolodex. Certainly, there are some former chart-toppers to be found amongst the 13 episodes of the series (which will hopefully prove to be the first of many seasons), but the variety of musicians involved is such that it’s clear the scheduling was the work of an individual rather than by committee. With that said, it never hurts to kiss the ass of your executive producers, so it’s possibly not a coincidence that the first guest on “Spectacle” is Sir Elton John, whose name appears in the show’s production credits, but, hey, everybody likes Elton!
If you consider yourself to be a music geek, then you’ll go nuts over “Spectacle,” since Elvis sits down with some of the biggest-selling and/or most acclaimed musical performers of the 20th and 21st centuries…plus Bill Clinton…and basically just gets geeky with them. Yes, he’s a fine interviewer, having at least honed his skills a bit by guest-hosting an episode of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but in truth, the best parts of the conversation with Elton are when the two of them wax nostalgic about Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, and Leon Russell, among others.
It would be cruel and unusual punishment to have these artists onstage without ever playing a note, of course, so you will be unsurprised to hear that there’s a fair amount of music performed as well. The episodes start with Elvis performing a song by that evening’s guest, so you’ll be hearing a nice version of Elton’s “Border Song” tonight (come next week, prepare to have Elvis serenade you with one of Lou Reed’s finest ’60s compositions), but Elton himself takes to the piano and has a bit of fun with demonstrating the similarity between his own style and that of the aforementioned Mr. Russell, and the two of them duet nicely on David Ackles’ “Down River,” an American singer-songwriter who never earned quite as much fame Stateside as he did in the UK. (The first time I’d ever heard of him was when Howard Jones covered his song, “Road to Cairo,” on the Elektra Records’ anniversary set, Rubaiyat.)
Beyond Mr. Reed’s appearance next week and President Clinton’s chat the following Wednesday, you can look forward to upcoming episodes which feature James Taylor, Tony Bennett, the Police, Rufus Wainwright (whose praises are sung by Elton tonight, as it happens), Herbie Hancock, and many others. I’ll offer up another post next week with a bit more specifics as to what you can expect with Laughin’ Lou, but if you catch the show with Elton, be sure to leave your thoughts.
Oh, and ignore Elvis. You should tell everyone about “Spectacle.”