At the second of two concerts on Wednesday night at the Supper Club, Elvis Costello structured his performance as meticulously as he writes his songs. He opened his two-and-a-half hour set with a song that promised "showtime is almost here" ("King Horse") and ended demanding "give me a rest" in "I Want to Vanish." When he interrupted "Little Atoms" to tell a story about an encounter with a hostile interviewer, he resumed the song with the lyric in which he wishes damnation on those who don't like his music.
The concert, as usual, was also a lesson in songwriting, with Mr. Costello demonstrating how his classic pop influences trickle into his edgy, brainy songs. In "Talking in the Dark," he acknowledged where he borrowed the song's guitar line by breaking into the Kinks' "Dead End Street"; in "New Amsterdam" he segued into the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" without changing the melody. "I come from a long line of Irish-descended song thieves," he joked during the show.
The music at the Supper Club was spare, with Mr. Costello's adenoidal singing and light guitar strumming accompanied only by Steve Nieve, an original member of Mr. Costello's former backup band, the Attractions, who ornamented the songs with piano coloratura.
Mr. Costello seemed to enjoy the freedom that the simply staged show allowed, performing three generous encores, singing several unreleased songs (including "God Give Me Strength," which he wrote with Burt Bacharach), and cracking jokes. He did an uncanny impression of Elvis Presley singing Bruce Springsteen and Blondie songs, and, during "God's Comic," recounted a dream in which the Heavenly Father asked him if Alanis Morissette and Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) were the same person.
On the new All This Useless Beauty (Warner Brothers), his best album in a decade, Mr. Costello opens with a song in which he walks out on a lover, telling her that she can find him at "the other end of the telescope." Mr. Costello spent the beginning of his 20-year career at the eyepiece of the telescope, jealously observing an ex-lover in "Alison" and spying on a date spent in front of a television screen in "Watching the Detectives" (both of which he performed in stripped-down versions on Wednesday).
On recent albums, however, Mr. Costello has switched perspectives, singing from the viewpoint of the characters he once observed. This is especially true of the songs on All This Useless Beauty, most of which Mr. Costello wrote for other performers (including Roger McGuinn, Aimee Mann and June Tabor). When performing songs from the album, including "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone?," "All This Useless Beauty" and "Poor Fractured Atlas," Mr. Costello sympathized with the opposite sex, complaining about men who were ugly, obnoxiously macho or sex-obsessed.
In a new song he described as a lesser version of Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach," Mr. Costello sang about a single woman preparing to have a baby she knows she can't take care of. Most great artists create from experience, and Mr. Costello is no exception. He is inspired by the shared experiences of pop songs and Hollywood films, even when he is being introspective or observing those around him. The music becomes original when he filters it through his own detached sensibility, that of an astute outsider who holds the pieces to life's puzzle but knows that they are not supposed to fit together.