Elvis Costello almost had us fooled.
The English singer-songwriter crafted his near-two-hour show at the Taft Theatre Friday night in such a way that newer material came off as presentable as the older stuff he played. It was as if his artistic heyday, which began with his 1977 debut, didn't really end in the very early '80s (or mid-'80s if you want to be more generous) and instead carries on to the present.
But when he closed with three old classic tunes, it was a reminder that he hasn't recorded anything like those in a long time. More to the point, most of the old stuff he played earlier in the night wasn't his best old stuff.
Back by the Imposters, a band that included two of the original Attractions, Mr. Costello navigated between power pop and Trans-Atlantic soul balladry through most of the show. Keyboardist Steve Nieve provided the hooks on the up-tempo, poppy stuff, as well as enough instrumental weirdness to keep things interesting, such as a theremin solo during "Tear Off Your Own Head (It's A Doll Revolution)" from Mr. Costello's latest studio album When I Was Cruel.
Mr. Costello, 48, was in fine voice. Except for his contribution to the theremin bit in "Doll Revolution," he didn't move from his spot at center stage. He was all about the vocals, digging into R&B-tinged material like his long-time version of Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down" and playfully reworking the phrasing of the ballads like a new-wave George Jones.
Although When I Was Cruel material received enthusiastic responses, there was a spike in the energy level of the near-sellout crowd each time Mr. Costello dug into the past for songs like "Accidents Will Happen," "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" and "Party Girl."
They weren't what would be called smash hits. Mr. Costello was definitely looking to highlight not only newer material but also the darker corners of his catalog. This might have pleased his biggest fans but alienated those expecting "Alison" and such.
"Alison" was delivered in the first encore. The second encore began with When I Was Cruel's "45," followed by three of Mr. Costello's biggest hits and greatest songs: "Watching the Detectives" — which featured Mr. Costello's best guitar playing of the night during an extended dub breakdown — "Radio Radio" and "Pump It Up."