It was a rough-around-the-edges night, but frequently a stunner. The unpredictability started when the support act — Atlanta roots band Larkin Poe — pulled out through illness.
So Costello came on early, in front of a huge fake telly on which song lyrics, bits of his and his family's pasts and a series of daft Nottingham references — old Raleigh adverts, Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood, Cloughie — were projected.
I've seen Costello with both The Attractions and The Imposters, on two-hander tours with loyal keyboard sidekick Steve Nieve and even in an odd classical-jazz hybrid with John Harle and Andy Sheppard. The last time he played here, he had cage dancers and a giant spinning game-show wheel to randomise the setlist. But I've never seen him look so relaxed as he did here, on his own.
He sounded a bit under the weather, mind. The voice was slightly more ragged than usual, something he jokily blamed on the "lovely Cumbrian air" in Carlisle the night before.
There were plenty of hits. "Accidents Will Happen" was taut and sharp as ever, even stripped back to one guitar. "Green Shirt" was stunning, as menacing as in the old days. "Oliver's Army," "American Without Tears," "Ghost Train," even "She" — on they came.
But the less-well-known stuff was equally interesting. "Ascension Day," his post-Leadbelly collaboration with Allen Toussaint, hailed the efforts of the people of New Orleans to rebuild their city. "The Last Year Of My Youth" — unveiled on the Letterman show last year, even though he'd only written it the day before — showed that his brilliant songwriting skill remains undimmed.
Occasionally things hit the buffers, usually when he played the piano. He seemed ill at ease on the instrument, and an ill-advisedly jazzy "Shipbuilding" was dogged with a dragging tempo and some clunky playing. Later, a gospel reinvention of "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" was impeccable — but I was always relieved when he picked up a guitar again, especially for a magnificent, loop-powered "Watching The Detectives."
There were laughs, too, with stories of his dad, a singer with the Joe Loss Orchestra, and a song from 1930 dedicated to his two eight-year-old sons. He even did "Side By Side," its opening "Well, we ain't got a barrel of money…" drawing further chuckles.
For the encores, Costello was suddenly inside the giant TV for "Pump It Up" and "Alison," brandishing the guitar from the cover of My Aim Is True, before a rip-roaring version of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding."
He said he'd see us again next time. I wonder what he'll do then. Whatever it is, it'll be worth the money.