NEW YORK — Elvis Costello returned to the Beacon Theatre this week, where a year ago he presented a body of new songs, then works in progress, in a week's residency.
In presenting the songs that ended up, some in quite different form, on his latest album, All This Useless Beauty, he thanked the audience for its role in the process.
The reward was not only a handful of the expertly crafted songs from the album, but a wide range of favorites from 20 years of recording some of the best pop around.
In the second act of the sold-out, two-night stand Tuesday, Costello seemed in good spirits and in superb voice. Since his days as an angry man, spitting out the lyrics of retribution and guilt during the punk age, he's mellowed at 41 into a formidable crooner.
And, trying to avoid repeating too much of the Monday night show, he delved deep into his own catalog to present rarely performed songs such as "Motel Matches" and "Miracle Man."
Again he's backed by his old band the Attractions, the sharp secret weapons that charged his early albums. But unlike the 1994 Brutal Youth tour in which newly recorded Attractions material was paired with the earliest Attractions material, Costello was comfortable enough with his band to present songs from all periods of his career, including the "Brilliant Mistake" that kicked off the 1986 King of America and "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror" from 1989's Spike.
Songs often took different turns live, as Costello, the band's sole guitarist, abandoned his instrument so he could concentrate on singing. With a voice big enough to fill the theater, he also has adapted charming extended hand motions, as if he were the Fourth Tenor.
Many of his treatments were transfixing. A version of "(I Don't Want Go To) Chelsea" evolved funkily into a brief patch of the Isley Brothers' "That Lady." An eccentric turn at his "Pump It Up," that began with Chuck Berry licks and continued with Steve Nieve on accordian instead of keyboards, shifted into a lively version of Larry Williams' "Slow Down."
Some things were dramatically slowed down, such as "Green Shirt" in the first of three encores, but it wasn't without the explosive drumming of Pete Thomas. A fairly faithful "Alison" turned into a shouted version of the Jim Reeves' hit, "He'll Have To Go."
The show ended enigmatically, as Costello bid the crowd goodbye. "We may not be back for a while," he said, before launching into a beautifully sung "I Want To Vanish."
"I've given you the awful truth," he sang, fittingly. "Now give me my rest."