Spectacle: Elvis Costello with ...TV viewers who enjoy good conversation about, and performance of music will be pleased to know that Elvis Costello’s acclaimed series Spectacle: Elvis Costello with … will be returning to the Sundance Channel for a second season on December 9. Last season’s guests included Lou Reed, James Taylor, the Police, Herbie Hancock, Elton John, and Bill Clinton (yes, he played the saxophone). We rarely get a chance to hear people who know what they’re talking about discuss music, and the performances, which usually featured the guests playing with Costello’s band the Attractions, were fresh and first rate. Costello went straight to the top to open his second season. His guests for the hour are Bono and The Edge from U2. The traditional show opening features Costello and the Attraction covering a song by his guests for the evening, and so we get a torrid, albeit somewhat short version of U2’s “Mysterious Ways” to kick things off before Costello introduces Bono and The Edge as “the last rock stars.”

The three settle in for conversation about the early days. There’s a bit of mutual admiration, and some talk about influences. The Edge surprised me a little by mentioning krautrock as one of the band’s early inspirations, along with Echo and the Bunnymen, Magazine, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. All three then join the Attractions for a terrific version of U2’s “Stuck In A Moment,” with Costello sharing the vocals with Bono, and providing an intensity missing from the original. Then it’s back to conversation, and the discussion turns to U2’s producers. Brian Eno is cited as providing the band with the art school vibe that wasn’t a part of their history as it was with so many other bands from Ireland and England. Daniel Lanois is credited with bringing a musicianship to the band that was previously lacking, and Steve Lillywhite is seen as a mediating and upbeat force in the studio. Bono and the Edge then play an absolutely stunning version of “Stay (Faraway So Close).”

After more conversation about Leonard Cohen, the Amnesty International Tour that U2 was famously a part of in the ’80s, and Frank Sinatra, Bono does a lovely version of a song he wrote for Sinatra called “Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad” accompanied only by piano. Frank Sinatra never did record the song, though his daughter Nancy did, and Attractions drummer Pete Thomas played on that record, so we’ve come full circle. The assembled cast closes the show with a medley of Costello’s “Pump It Up” and U2’s “Get On Your Boots.”

Spectacle: Elvis Costello with … is a rare opportunity to see popular music presented artfully, and discussed intelligently on television. Future guests for this season include Neko Case, Levon Helm, Nick Lowe, and Bruce Springsteen. Check your television listings for details. Here’s a preview:

About the Author

Ken Shane

Ken Shane lives in Narragansett, R.I. He is a freelance writer and far and away the oldest Popdose writer. In fact, he may be the oldest writer, period. He wants you to know that he generally does not share his colleagues' love for the music of the '80s, and he does not forgive them for loving it. (Ken passed away in November 2022. R.I.P. —Ed.)

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