Spectacle – Season 2
starring Elvis Costello
MVDvisual, Sexy Intellectual
Television and rock and roll never seem to make sweet music together – the MTV Video Music Awards and The Grammies might be the peak of the hybrid, but those shows are more about self love than innovative entertainment. But I held high hopes for Spectacle; it’s hard to argue with the skills of Elvis Costello and his eclectic lineups. Spectacle even ran on the Sundance Channel, one of the cooler slots from the days when I paid money to the cable company. This arty show ran a short two seasons, and I snatched up this collection of its final year offered by a production company known as “Sexy Intellectual.” What could possibly go wrong?
While this set of hour-long broadcasts looks good, sounds good, and never takes itself too seriously, it’s still difficult to watch. Costello is enthusiastic and chatty, perhaps too chatty. His interview segments run rather long, and have a self-congratulatory feel that makes the fast forward button look more and more attractive. The guests do their best; John Prine, Nick Lowe, Levon Helm, and Lyle Lovett find the common ground to pull off some decent acoustic-oriented material. Sheryl Crow sings a heartfelt “If It Makes You Happy” while Bruce Springsteen appears twice with his self-depreciating humor and goes mano-a-mano against Costello, culminating in an all too short mashup of “Radio, Radio” and “Radio Nowhere”. Even U2’s Bono and The Edge (The Edge of what – pretentious?) appear, acting like they invented rock and roll and captured Bin Laden singlehandedly. I’ve never been in love with U2 but their acoustic “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad” ratchet them up a notch in my book.
Given what and how rock and roll appears on networks and cable channels, at least Spectacle heads in the right directions and offers a peek at musicians that aren’t always Top 40 favorites. Mr. Costello favors stylish hats on stage, it’s better than a combover or that old Buddy Holly look that is so 1979. And his set looks like a fancy house with an exceptional lighting designer – racks of guitars lurk in the back, rough bricks are projected on the walls, and the audience applauds with calculated enthusiasm right on cue. While the talk segments are insightful, I’d like to see more music. Perhaps Frank Zappa said it best: “Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar”