When you're too lazy to write a setlist

"Playing a character named Napoleon Dynamite, Mr. Costello sent an assistant into the audience to pick volunteers who took turns spinning a giant roulette wheel marked off with 40 song titles. Once having chosen a song with a random spin of the wheel, each spectator was ushered to a go-go dancer's cage and encouraged to dance along with the music."
Stephen Holden, The New York Times, October 28, 1986

Primavera Sound 2011 takes place in Barcelona at the end of May. The line-up is excellent but I couldn't help noticing one detail: three of the acts are playing albums in full. Echo & The Bunnymen will perform Heaven Up Here and Crocodiles, John Cale will perform Paris 1919 and Mercury Rev will perform Deserter's Songs.

Everyone's been at it in recent years. Belle & Sebastian played If You're Feeling Sinister in full, The Pixies have done the same with Doolittle and even A-Ha, A-sodding-Ha, have performed their debut album in its entirety, raising the alarming prospect that somebody actually wants to hear A-Ha's debut album again.

I don't know where this trend started. The earliest example I can think of is Brian Wilson playing Pet Sounds live more than a decade ago but I doubt that he was the first.

To me it feels like part of the trend for remaking classic TV shows and films. It's a way of reassuring the audience that they'll be seeing something familiar, that there's no need to worry about taking a risk because they'll merely get a more modern version of something they already know they like. Hearing a band play one of their classic albums in full removes any doubt that they'll confuse you with an obscure b-side you never heard or a song they haven't released yet.

It is, in other words, depressingly safe.

On the bright side, you'll probably get to hear some songs that are seldom, if ever played live. I'd go and hear Radiohead play OK Computer, for example, just to hear them play Let Down, which I've never heard live Still, the idea of knowing not only what songs are going to be played but also the exact order in which you'll hear them is hardly exciting.

If only all bands would follow Elvis Costello's example and decide their setlist on the spin of a giant roulette wheel. I've always wished I could have seen one of those 1986 shows. Now I'm pleased to discover that - 25 years on - Costello is doing it again. I just hope he rolls his wheel over to Britain.