LOS ANGELES — An Elvis Costello concert can be an unpleasant experience for anyone other than fans and misanthropes.
He never has been the world's most amiable fellow, and many of his songs feature needlessly nasty asides.
Costello has been known to hurl verbal darts at a host of celebrated victims during concerts.
But his Sunday night concert at the Wiltern Theatre — the first of a five-night engagement — wasn't the bile fest fans have come to expect from the crusty British singer-songwriter.
This new, improved Costello pretty much kept his ad-libs warm, friendly and to the point. The result was an enjoyable musical experience.
At the outset, it appeared Costello would follow form and offer up his angry-young-man schtick. He emerged on stage sporting a grassy beard, his eyes concealed by sunglasses. He plowed through four songs before ever bothering to greet his fans.
But the tenor of the performance changed for the better after a rather icy interpretation of "Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head." Costello seemed almost contrite when he bowed before the crowd and uttered, "Good evening."
The salutation was followed by "So Like Candy," a compelling, jazz-inflected ballad off his new album, Mighty Like a Rose. He continued to unveil songs from the new recording throughout the evening, and each performance was delivered with purpose.
Costello made amends for his chilly start as the show progressed. He played contemplative piano on an exquisite new ballad titled "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4."
Another pleasant surprise was a lilting rendition of "You Bowed Down," a tune Costello composed for former Byrds singer Roger McGuinn.
Unfortunately, Costello wasn't a captivating performer. Save for an occasional dramatic pose at the conclusion of songs, he stood cemented behind his microphone.
What's more, Costello continues to display an annoying penchant for countless encores. Bonus performances in general are fine, but Costello has elevated the device to new heights.
As was the case during previous tours, the singer's regular set lasted less than 70 minutes — far below popular standards. He then made up for the deficit by performing numerous encores. The ploy begged a question: Is Costello so insecure that he needs the reassurance of countless ovations?
But nearly every complaint one might have leveled against the show was erased during a transcendent interpretation of "Alison." Costello clinched the performance with a soulful vocal and some Hendrix-inspired guitar playing.