Unquestionably a great British songwriter, allowing himself to be sidetracked into areas (country, jazz, classical, soundtracks) he's merely average at has effectively scuppered Elvis Costello's career. Yet, jaunty of disposition, the father of two-year-old twins with third wife, jazz singer Diana Krall, seems more content than ever.
His far from skittish collaboration with The Brodsky Quartet began in 1993 with The Juliet Letters album. Last night, the second of six British dates, showcased the best and worst of Costello's unyielding commitment to the less than obvious.
A man who runs so scared of his past wasn't going to surrender to his hits despite opening a 150-minute performance with a deftly reworked "Accidents Will Happen." For a heady moment, I fancied Costello might spend the evening re-imagining his best work. Silly me. That Number 28 hit, plus "Pills And Soap," recorded under his Imposter guise), "Shipbuilding," the protest song he gave to Robert Wyatt and "Rocking Horse Road"'s brief excursion into "Wild Thing" was as user-friendly as he allowed himself to be.
Wearyingly, this meant the unrequested exhumation of such lumpen dirges as "Either Side Of The Same Town," "For Other Eyes" and the Johnny Mercer/Gordon Jenkins Thirties mood-killer, "P.S. I Love You."
Mercifully, Costello is such an intriguing artist and The Brodsky Quartet such flexible foils that there was much to relish, not least "Jacksons, Monk And Rowe," the fleet-footed Juliet Letters stand-out.
"All This Useless Beauty" was given a new, superior lease of life, while the tongue-twisting Bedlam remains that rarity: a 21st-century Costello song capable of standing alongside his best work of the 20th.
More encouraging still was the unrecorded "One Bell Ringing," delivered solo but so full of wordy bile that those who have written off Costello may yet have to re-consider.