By now, just about everybody has heard of, seen or even followed the so-called TV-show “Spectacle”, featuring Elvis Costello in his new job as a music-celebrity interviewer. Not even I could resist, the non-TV viewer/turned 12-hr.-a-day net-surfer.
What temporarily changed my take on most regular TV-fare was the in-your-face announcement of the 13-part show by a cult-hero whom I had only vaguely heard of, and whose wife is a fairly well-to-do Canadian jazz-pianiste/singer. I’ve been accused now and then of harboring a streak of severe ignorance in me when it comes to musical opinions, even though I think of myself as a jazz/folk/classical music-lover who knows his way around a guitar and enjoys an occasional fingering of piano-keys.
Well, the good folks at Toronto’s City-TV currently bless us with thirteen heavily lauded installments of “Spectacle”, the first two of which I somehow missed. I found out that those two segments consisted of a one-on-one Costello interview with Sir Elton John, and a further show with the so fame-fabled rock-group The Police. Both well-received episodes of “Spectacle” (a misnomer, as you’ll soon agree) probably caused the mega-hype that brought us a re-run of such superlatives as "seminal, monumental, ruling, iconic, illuminating, unprecedented, tastiest, best talk program about music ever made") And no, I didn’t make those up.
My first taste of Elvis Costello’s Spectacle is an interview with each of these four well-known singers/song-writers/guitar-players: Norah Jones, by far the youngest and best-looking celebrity on hand, Roseanne Cash, overshadowed by the memory of her so famous father Johnny, John Mellencamp, mostly unknown to your humble scribbler here, plus the somewhat soggy-looking but instantly recognizable Kris Kristofferson with all his charm, smile and an old chestnut going by the name of “Me and Bobby McGee”. All of them sit on bar-stools like birds on a telephone-line, cuddling their guitars and briefly answering some uncool questions posed by Maestro Costello.
Well, of course it is very nice to see those four folk/blues/ballad singing stars, with Elvis C. helping out here and there, but their performances are done solo, without the benefit of some additional instruments such as a bass, or a set of drums. A little later on, somewhere backstage, I can make out a fabulous guitar-player, probably a member of Costello’s house-band, who tunes in for some Elvis- songs and makes a huge difference. Why is he not playing with the lonely-sounding souls up front who come across as if they are just plain cold and uncomfortable? Hmmm...
Mostly good stuff and pleasant enough, but no spectacle. Not by a few miles.
A week later, the uncanny, slick-witted and thoroughly enjoyable James Taylor takes over lock, stock and barrel. Too bad he shows up dressed in some sort-of beige slacks and a baby-blue t-shirt that should be tucked in instead of hanging over the sides of his pants. Mr. Taylor just doesn’t live up to his name, I guess; and where the hell is his baseball-hat, I want to know.
The show-host’s interview with baby James, by the way, doesn’t work well, in my opinion. Mr. James Taylor is said to be a painfully private man who does not thrive on foolish banter as issued during silly interviews. Thus Costello doesn’t get far with him and instead makes him sing. Sweet Baby James likes it much better that way, and he proceeds to wrap his audience around his guitar with some of his early trade-mark songs, amongst them the hauntingly beautiful "Fire And Rain". Awesome, I say. And Elvis knows a hint when he stumbles across one: this time, there’s an invisible but perfect outfit that backs up most of the songs during that particular show. Perhaps the Costello-band The Imposters? Or did James bring his own?
Ach..., by now I am almost looking forward to the next episode of “Spectacle”. The one in which a blond piano player/torch singer gets to talk with an iconic superstar world-famous piano player/rock & ballad singer. As it turns out, it's a dubious treat with a hell-of-a-great ending.
Elvis Costello, the so-far-flung master of ceremonies of the “Spectacle”, comes out and introduces the lovely, talented and God-knows-what-else jazz pianist-vocalist Diana Krall, who also happens to be his wife and the mother of a set of twin boys.
Ms. Krall is dressed in something short, black and bland, as I remember, and her honey-colored hair just sits helplessly on top of her head. She’s not pleased with the intro, going by her dour expression, but then the show must go on, and the interviewer this time is not Elvis, because it’s the incomparable Sir Elton John. None less.
Elton John, of course, is no Baby James when it comes to attire; today he shows up in a well-cut charcoal-colored suit atop a burgundy neck-naked t-shirt. “Simon Cowell (of American Idol fame, yes YOU!),get with it. If you don’t have a proper shirt kicking around in your sparsely appointed collection of apparel, at least wear a jacket over your underwear,” I wince secretly. Soon the brief intro is in the can, and Elvis disappears backstage without as much as an adieu.
Sir Elton's interview turns right away into common-fare, boredom-plagued rubbish, with questions such as “When did you first listen to music?”, “What made you choose the piano?”, , “Where did you learn about jazz?”, and maybe even “How old were you when you were born?” The questions are so dumb that Sir Elton reads them aloud, one by one, from a cheat-sheet stuck to the piano-lid. He comes across as thoroughly uninspired, and I don't blame him one bit.
Poor Diana, the respondante, has to go by memory for her answers and takes her time, ahem, ahem, ah.., thinking twice before getting back to Sir Elton Interviewer. Both Elton and her are no accomplished speakers, that's for sure.
The equally ill-at-ease Ms. Krall, meanwhile, sits sideways on the piano-stool, her legs crossing to and from, her restless arms and hands craving a pianistic work-out. She’s not impressed with this idiotic idea of an interview, we can tell. Why are we all going through this? Just because someone likes thiw interview-idea, with a bit of music on the side, featuring WORLD-FAMOUS performers, for singing out loud? Why not just sit down side-by-side at the grand-piano and belt out some doozies? Something like a cloud-busting OscarPeterson-jazzy “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me?”
But then a miracle happens: the interview is over. Elvis returns to take charge of the show again, then Elton and Diana deliver a striking rendition of “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”. Good God and the audience sit up, ears and eyes wide open… How appropriate a song to make up for the lousy talk-spot that had everybody just about in a blind and quiet rage? The duett by Diana and Elton, sadly, doesn't make up for anything and just hangs in the room like an overworked piece of carpet.
Listen/watch for yourself:
A final call for help is in order, and so Sir Elton calls host Elvis back on stage who rushes right in, quickly kisses the superstar slambang on the famous lips, and then Elton introduces the next song. Diana gets going with a top-bluesy intro, and then the best friends blast off with a super-glossy number called “Makin’ Whoopee” that comes with all the bells and whistles. The whole thing makes everybody forget the recent past for sure. Or so it seems. A spectacle at last? Well, the good host Elvis sings with a stuffed nose and some pitch-issues that the now funk-witty Diana Krall just fingers over with her smooth keyboard-work and... a smile. Standing applause, no less. All's well that ends well. Too bad. If they would just drop the bloody interviews and make music for an hour.
What's next? Hmmm… It’s a week later now, and I just saw Elvis Costello interviewing Bill Clinton. Yes, The Monica-Man. Good stuff! At least ExPrez had the common sense to leave his horn at home. By that I mean of course Bill’s saxophone. And there’s no duet singing between consenting adults this time. However, there’s a couple of dead-perfect… But let’s not get ahead of ourselves now, right?
And in case you missed "Whoopee", here’s a You-Tube link to it: “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfYU_xNAvNg”.