Some people just don't know when to stop. We were more than two hours into the London leg of Elvis Costello's UK tour, on which Costello is accompanied only by his keyboardist Steve Nieve, the show had long since reached its natural conclusion, yet he just kept coming back for more encores. Each return to the stage was vociferously demanded by a hardcore of supporters, but I suspect that there were many in the hall who, like myself, were wondering when we would be allowed to go home.
Even at half an hour too long, this was still an absorbing and at times compelling show. And the extraordinary thing about it was that Costello never ran short of top-notch material. Thus, afterwards, I went through the usual post-Costello gig ritual: counting the ones that got away. "Man Out of Time"? "Pump it Up"? "The Other Side of Summer"? "New Amsterdam"? Nowhere to be seen.
And being prolific is not just the only trick in Costello's book. In a career that has lasted thus far more than 20 years, he has left no genre unexplored (with the exception of hardcore techno): jazz, classical, country, punk and pop are all included in his database of styles.
He seems particularly proud of his most recent effort, Painted From Memory, the album written and recorded last year with Burt Bacharach. And with good reason: these are classy, baroque compositions, combining the melodicism of great pop music with the complex song structures of something altogether more classical. And it was the songs from this album that provided some of the show's finest moments, lending themselves particularly well to the stripped down format: Costello either alone or hugging a guitar, Nieve on grand piano or electronic keyboard: "Toledo" and "This House is Empty Now" were both beautifully understated.
There were countless great moments from the archives, too, among them an exquisite Good Year For the Roses and a sublimely simple Alison, while Nieve's classical background shone through in a lilting, Debussy-esque reading of Temptation.
On occasion, I yearned for a rhythm section to step out of the shadows and for a song such as "Red Shoes" to kick off in all its electric, electrifying glory. Mostly, though, the minimalistic formula worked splendidly; indeed, at the end of a show, which Costello wryly referred to as another "melancholics' convention", he and Nieve were singing and playing without any kind of amplification.
With the piano tinkling and Costello's dreamy voice floating around the auditorium, it was like listening to a lullaby. Which was appropriate, because by then I was more than ready for Horlicks and bed.