elvis costello – spectacle

I am so out of the loop i only barely heard that this was happening, and saw the opportunities for tickets and dismissed them.

Until the one came through listing as follows:

Bill Clinton

Lou Reed

We had a baseball game Tuesday night and in any event, in our house, the latter will always be more important. I sent off an email and to my utter shock we were confirmed.

What I didn’t even stop to think about was – what is the format? What is the ethos of this show? It wasn’t until I was sitting in Studio 8-H (yes, *that* Studio 8-H) at 30 Rockefeller Plaza that I remembered when David Letterman was out due to his heart surgery and Mr. McManus was one of a list of rotating hosts. And that he was so completely perfect for the role everyone wondered why he hadn’t done this before.

Studio 8-H is TINY to begin with, and they were only using about half of it for the taping of Spectacle. The audience was very small, with us peons relegated upstairs and the beautiful and famous downstairs. (Only suspect identified: Jesse Malin, who snuck out with his entourage before the final musical number.)

The show opened with Elvis, backed by Dylan’s backing band and Steve Nieve, singing “Beginning To See The Light” – which was enough of a shock, except it was then followed by what can only be described as a Cajun version of “Femme Fatale”. I know that sounds really terrible on paper, but it’s not like the Seeger Sessions band got ahold of it or anything like that. You either have to play that number all raw and unkempt (see: Michael Stipe) or you have to do something else with it. It worked.

Then, with a dramatic piano-domained melody of “Waiting For The Man” playing in the background, Mr. Reed was introduced. Lou looks awesome. Lou looks even more awesome given that he’s 66. Lou looks even more awesome than that if you consider all the abuse his body has gone through. I haven’t been this close to Lou in a long, long time and it makes me want to take up tai chi again.

All kidding aside, this is probably the only Lou Reed interview I’ve seen (and I’ve seen/read/heard *a lot*) where Lou wasn’t acting like a total dick. While I am fully cognizant of the fact that acting like a total dick is to a certain extent synonymous with being Lou Reed, and that most of the people he sneers at deserve it, he was still able to be Lou, but yet open up and answer questions he probably would never tolerate from anyone else.

Elvis took his role as host so sweetly and seriously, down to the index cards (which he never referred to that I saw). He didn’t have to – he is a fan, and a musicologist, and a historian, and can riff on anything from Gershwin to Gang of Four effortlessly. That’s the kind of person who gets respect from Lou Reed, and that is exactly what happened. The two of them dug into a million things, starting from how they both originally got into music (not dissimilarly, talking about doo wop and Dion) and finally getting to the point where they are sharing thoughts on the creative process and writer’s block and where does it come from and how do they approach writing, and in the process, we got Lou on the Brooklyn Dodgers and Doc Pomus and how he’s always wanted to write a good New York City detective story (OMG) and how he almost recorded “Soul Man” with Sam Moore and how excited he was that that was going to happen, and how sometimes he hears something on the radio and wonders why I don’t remember writing it, but it sounds so much like me [me: “Julian Casablancas called, desperately seeking approval”], and a loving mention of Bono and how U2 fans think that Bono wrote “Satellite of Love” and how New York has changed, but if you walk around at 5 in the morning, well… and you just KNOW that Lou Reed *is* out there walking around New York at 5 in the morning, probably because he can’t sleep or the writer’s block is getting to him or he’s looking for the vestiges of the New York he remembers and that inspired him.

And more.

Then Julian Schnabel came out and tried to talk about how they put the recent performance of Berlin together, but he was probably as overwhelmed as the rest of us were. Then Julian recited the lyrics to “The Rock Minuet” (maybe it was off the prompter a little, but I want to believe that Julian Schnabel really could recite the lyrics to that song at the drop of a hat).

And then Lou and Elvis came back out. On the prompter are the lyrics to “Set The Twilight Reeling”. Fine choice from an overlooked album.

Except they came back out with two grand pianos and two pianists and two microphones and from the first piano note I literally go into as much of the fetal position I can sitting in a theater chair in a television studio, because what they have chosen to do instead is “Perfect Day,” and when anyone who is worth a damn sings “Perfect Day” you would have to be a robot to not crack open your hardened heart or crusty exterior just a little and take in some of the light projected by the performance of this song. And I think about Transformer and how that record will mean 14th Street until the day I die, except it’s the 14th Street I remember in the 80s, full of dollar stores and cheap merchandise on the street and the Palladium hovering over the corner of Union Square, that I can walk into a bar in Chicago or London or Amsterdam or Munich and hear “Vicious” and know that I have found the right place.

And Elvis does that little thing he often does, if you have seen him live enough times, where he drops back from the mic and so if you are close or the room is small you are hearing his voice without amplification, and his voice is strong enough to carry without amplification, and Lou is there alongside him and it is absolutely sublime.

Not much more matters after that.

Spectacle will be on Sundance in September.

p.s. To my utter shock, I’m getting a gazillion hits to this thing but no referrers, so I don’t know how you got here.. Comments or email letting me know how you found this would be most welcomed.