Elvis Costello played a mostly acoustic evening's worth of music at Wolf Trap Wednesday night. Accompanied only by pianist Steve Nieve, Costello started with a batch of songs that seemed as if they might've been chosen to show off his skills as a storyteller. From Painted From Memory, his recent collaboration with Burt Bacharach, he played "Toledo," about a man trying to put off confessing the betrayal of his lover, and "What's Her Name Today?," which Costello said is "about a man who goes around breaking everyone's heart because somebody broke his heart once."
That sort of moodiness runs through much of his music, but Costello is also a very funny performer — during an interlude in "God's Comic" he took a moment to try a little stand-up, goofing on Elvis Presley, plunking out a line from Duran Duran's "Rio" and taking a few shots at "Lord of the Dance" Michael Flatley ("Just what the world needs now," he cracked. "A triumph of the Celtic will.")
Costello played encores on top of encores, working in older hits such as "Alison," "Watching the Detectives" and "Accidents Will Happen" along the way. He doesn't seem to mind playing the 20-year-old crowd-pleasers at all. Thank goodness he doesn't — with the frills peeled off the music, the strength of his melodies and lyrics has never been more evident. Costello finished with "Couldn't Call It Unexpected No. 4," which he was bold enough to perform without amplification.