It was Elvis Costello from soup to nuts on Tuesday, the first of two nights at the Wiltern Theatre, where the veteran English singer-songwriter and his longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve performed an intimate concert spanning his more than 20-year career.
Often accompanying himself on guitar, Costello served up everything from the early B-side "Radio Sweetheart" to about half the tunes on Painted From Memory, his 1998 album with veteran composer Burt Bacharach, along with many in-between treats. Indeed, despite the lack of an orchestra, the two-hour-plus show recalled the sublimely bittersweet mood of Costello and Bacharach's Universal Amphitheatre concert last fall.
Crooning about romantic deception, encroaching mortality and creeping fascism, Costello was in even better voice, honing the music's emotional nuances and indulging in such theatrical flourishes as backing away from the microphone while singing the last few notes of a tune. The duo even performed its final number without amplification, and with the cooperation of the audience, Costello actually could be heard at the back of the balcony.
This cozy setting showed off Costello's seemingly bottomless catalog of stellar material, while underscoring that even his early, more rocking songs were steeped in a classic pop sensibility. Yet no matter how much he softens such bilious classics as "Watching the Detectives," they haven't lost their bite.