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Elvis Costello and the Roots Celebrate 'Crazy Experiment'

Collaborators debut 'Wise Up Ghost' and remix Attractions favorites

Elvis Costello performs at Brooklyn Bowl on September 16th, 2013.
Chris Owyoung
September 17, 2013 12:40 PM ET

"Good morning," Questlove of the Roots announced with a grin just after 10 p.m. last night, taking the throne behind a white Ludwig drum kit. "Welcome to what we call the manifestation of a dream."

Questlove Says Elvis Costello and the Roots Recorded 'A Brilliant Album'

For this leader and his band of nine at Brooklyn Bowl, their year-long dream was about to be realized: revealing their once-secret studio collaboration with Elvis Costello. And for the 600 crammed into the bowling-alley venue, hours before the release of Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs, it was a wakeup call: these songs would be performed only once.

Questlove grooved as he introduced each member, each of them in turn built on the heavy lounge-funk foundation of the new song "Wake Me Up." "What more can I say?" he said, resting for a beat: "Elvis Costello, y'all!" 

The singer emerged from backstage in a fedora, waving his left hand and taking the microphone with the other. "In the name of the father and the son/In the name of gasoline and a gun," Costello crooned during the opener's grim nod to religion and war.

Elvis Costello and Questlove of The Roots perform in New York City.
Chris Owyoung

From there the set burst with unexpected treats, divided between fresh and favorite songs, including heavier arrangements of Costello's Attractions-era classics "Watching the Detectives" and "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea." At the side of the stage, Roots guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas shredded all night, often in shadows but never missed. Throughout the night Questlove gave cues and countdowns and directed a horn section from his perch, always with one eye on Costello.

Among the new ones, "Stick Out Your Tongue" proved quintessential from Wise Up Ghost's work of psychedelic soul and hip-hop throb. Between songs Questlove smiled at the distant clatter of a ball striking pins. "Is someone still bowling?" he asked.

"I got my bowling shoes with me," Costello replied.

Diane Birch arrived and harmonized with little more than a whisper on "Tripwire," a sweet lullaby beauty that would have fit well on Imperial Bedroom. A second guest, Marisoul of La Santa Cecilia, joined for three songs, beginning with "Spooky Girlfriend," a nugget from 2002's When I Was Cruel. She wore zebra-striped stockings and a babydoll dress, and she boomed on "Cincos Minutos Con Vos." Costello chewed gum between measures, fixing his gaze on lyrics he was still learning, as his face creased behind thick-framed glasses with every high note. On "I Want You," his barnburner from Blood and Chocolate, the band jammed for more than 10 minutes as a spotlight illuminated the frontman, who appeared only slightly winded as they cleared the stage.

For those close enough to see, a three-song encore was visible on the floor set list. The crowd demanded more, and the group returned with the album's title track. "When you gonna riiiiise up? Wise up, ghost," Costello snarled through a megaphone as cymbals, guitar and horns stormed in, striking an eerie balance between Alfred Hitchcock and Jimi Hendrix.

"Pump It Up" proved a welcome thrill, even if Costello was slightly behind the beat. He recovered for the unexpected closer, John Lennon's "I Found Out," before joining the band to take a bow minutes before midnight – just as Wise Up Ghost went on sale.

"Please support our crazy experiments," Questlove said. "Get home safely."

Set list:

"Wake Me Up"
"Refuse to Be Saved"
"Stick Out Your Tongue"
"Watching the Detectives"
"Shabby Doll"
"Sugar Won't Work"
"Tripwire" (with Diane Birch)
"Spooky Girlfriend" (with La Marisoul)
"Cincos Minutos Con Vos" (with La Marisoul)
"Ghost Town" (with La Marisoul)
"(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea"
"Walk Us Uptown"
"I Want You"
"Wise Up Ghost"
"Pump It Up"
"I Found Out"

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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