BOCA RATON — Near the end of his two-hour performance at the Mizner Park Amphitheatre on Saturday night, Elvis Costello made a joke about his conscious lack of glitz. An "expensive show," he noted, might have offered more bells and whistles. "Like Cher," he added.
Well, we've had our share of Cher. But after watching the nerdish singer-songwriter work his way through one of the best catalogs of tunes in the last three decades, we still want more of Costello.
It's not merely that the music matters so much, though it does. It's that Costello elevates it with his distinctive, proudly declarative voice. There's an emotional intensity to his style that most performers can only approximate. He turns songs into soliloquies — at turns pointed and droll — but he does it without calling undue attention to his artistry. He's too busy being a rocker to worry about being the Voice of a Generation.
You could tell as much from the start of the show, when Costello, dressed sharply in a black suit and black shirt, delivered some of his older, more popular tunes — "Accidents Will Happen," "Everyday I Write the Book" — in rapid-fire succession. Working in comfortable partnership with his longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve, Costello played up the fleet, nervous quality of his early style, blending punk attitude with rockabilly restlessness.
As the plentiful but often disrespectful crowd settled down — that is, when they still weren't busy yammering into their cellphones — Costello switched gears and went into more of a crooner mode.
Such songs as "Shot With His Own Gun" and "Long Honeymoon" were served up like mini-operas, flavored extra dry. By the time Costello got around to material from his latest, jazz-inflected album, North, he proved himself the quintessential low-fi showman. Add to the mix a few of his deftly comic remarks — something about the evolutionary chain from monkey to man and country star Toby Keith's place in it — and it became clear Elvis wasn't leaving the building anytime soon. He was having too much smart fun.
Still, Costello never strays too far from a good rocking groove. By the end of the night, he brought out a replica of a guitar belonging to that other musical Elvis — a Gibson with the right degree of fuzz — and played the heck out of "Pump It Up," another old favorite. He explained that the instrument was merely a "facsimile," like "everything else in rock 'n' roll now."
But Costello, he's an original — in every sense of the word.