AS FEATS of memory go it would have to be up there with your nerds reciting Pi almost infinitely. By the time Elvis Costello and his band the Imposters finish their Australian tour next year it's likely they will have at their disposal up to 150 songs ready to play at the drop of their leader's hat, or the spin of the wheel.
The New York and Vancouver-based Anglo Irishman, whose career began in 1976 and whose first tour of Australia two years later climaxed with a memorable riot at Sydney's Regent Theatre, will be doing a tour of various wineries around Australia in January and February as part of the Day On The Green series.
Along for the ride and the wine will be some equally venerable local musicians such as Joe Camilleri (whose band Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons had a single produced by Costello in the late '70s), the Sunnyboys and Stephen Cummings.
(Warming up Sydney for this tour of veterans is an extravagantly long list of fellow veterans, by which we mean those whose careers began more than 20 years ago, who will be coming through town in the next few weeks: see table.)
However, the bonus for fans in Sydney and Melbourne is that Costello and band will be bringing to Australia for the first time the giant spinning wheel. The upmarket musical version of your school fete chocolate wheel contains the names of songs old and new, any one of which can be played if the wheel stops there when spun by an audience member.
Costello explained that the tour begins with about 80 songs either on the wheel or on the roster to play during the more programmed parts of the show. But as the tour progresses and other songs from his vast catalogue of more than 300 songs are tried out at soundcheck or "feel right" on the day, not to mention favourite covers suggested by band members, the number rapidly goes past the century.
''That kind gives you a reason to consider what you've been doing all these years," said Costello who admits that ''I'm not very nostalgic by inclination so I try to keep them in the moment".
In an age where the likes of Beyonce have every minute of every show mapped out months in advance, playing songs at the whim of the turning wheel, can force musicians to work from more than muscle memory. Even the best known songs, the kind which might turn up at the end of the show as a crowd favourite encore, might feel quite strange now when found popping up mid-evening.
"There is something quite wonderful about the chance," Costello said. "It makes you think about it, makes you think about what's inside it and what makes it real.''
Elvis Costello tickets go on sale October 29.
The story Elvis rolls back time with a musical wheel of fortune first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.