Elvis Costello & the Imposters; Civic Hall, Auckland

Elsewhere: Graham Reid: 28th April, 2014

Most artists understand their audience's requirement and expectation so include at least a smattering of their most famous or best loved songs. And so it was that Elvis Costello and his gifted Imposters fired off in quick succession I Don't Wanna Go To Chelsea, Pump It Up, My Aim is True, Oliver's Army, What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding . . .

But in this exceptional show (the setlist of which didn't replicate their appearance in the same venue a year previous) those crowd-pleasers were reserved for the encore.

Before that Costello had roamed far and wide through his extraordinarily large songbook touching on his angry young man period (You Belong to Me), love of country (a delightful cover of Good Year for the Roses) and nods to soul (Everyday I Write the Book with a clever punctuating rhythm and him taking the portable mike to the front of the stage).

More than that though, there were some fascinating choices which were real diehard fans-only stuff (Watch Your Step, King of America).

And he came right up to last year's Wise Up Ghost album with the Roots for Walk Us Uptown and Viceroy's Row (although on the latter his sometimes mannered vocals rendered it something less than engaging).

He also included Ascension Day (from the album River in Reverse with Allen Toussaint), told a funny story about playing in his father's danceband at age 17 and another about staying in the famous Tropicana Motel in LA (before playing Motel Matches) . . . and generally behaved as the "beloved entertainer" he once, almost cynically, described himself.

There are few artists with this length of career behind them (he first played Pump It Up in Auckland in 1985, almost 30 years ago, striding up the aisle of the long-since demolished His Majesty's Theatre) who can still sound relevant and exciting.

Throughout there were reminders of just how classy a songwriter Costello is, and how Steve Nieve's piano part on My Aim is True really makes that song. And Costello played some furiously flailing guitar to the point that it might not have been surprising if he'd dropped in something by Hendrix.

Costello and band, who once again often didn't pause for breath between songs, delivered a memorable performance which never once felt like he was playing a game, even with those crowd-pleasing closers.

At the end he shouted, "See you again" and on the strength of this and last year's shows you can only hope that he, like Bob Dylan, becomes one of those regulars who will always have the capacity to surprise for the sheer depth and breadth of the songs they have at their fingertips.

A blinder. Another.