Elvis Costello digs deep, delivers stellar solo performance in Easton

Lehigh Valley Live: Dustin Schoof: 24th November 2013.

Elvis Costello did not have to spend two hours playing "the hits" to prove his mettle as a singer, songwriter, storyteller, musician and entertainer Saturday night at the State Theatre in Easton.

He just did what came natural.

The bespectacled guitarist -- dressed sharply in a dark gray suit and matching fedora -- seemed at ease, and at home, playing to a packed house in an intimate, acoustically tailored room that suited his still strong and booming voice.

Costello strayed from playing the expected; he spent the first of his three sets unearthing and dusting off lesser-known material, such as "King Horse" from 1980's "Get Happy!!," "Wave a White Flag," "White Knuckles" and 2004's "Either Side of the Same Town," off of "The Delivery Man."

An early highlight was a punchy run through "Sneaky Feelings," an often-overlooked gem from his groundbreaking 1977 debut album, "My Aim is True." Halfway through his first set, Costello busted out his 1983 single, "Every Day I Write the Book," which he jokingly said he hated. (The audience, on the other hand, loved it.)

Costello later showed that he was more than just an angry New Wave-punk poet -- at one point recalling growing up a third-generation musician -- by incorporating the bluesy folk standard "Walkin' My Baby Back Home" (a tune originally dating back to 1930) and a cover of Bing Crosby's "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" into his two-hour performance.

He made sure to touch on nearly every corner of his career -- taking the audience on a musical journey going as far back as 1979 with a powerful rendition of "Accidents Will Happen" to 1986's "Lovable" (from "King of America") and all the way up through 2010's "A Slow Drag with Josephine" (from the album "National Ransom").

Costello's guitar skills remain unsurprisingly impressive and impeccable. He still knows how to entertain and glean applause and appreciation from his fans with only a couple of acoustic guitars, two electric six-strings and a microphone.

For his first encore, Costello dropped a haunting, distortion-washed version of the reggae-tinged "Watching the Detectives." He followed it up with a slightly reworked version of his early hit ballad "Alison," which he used to segue into a cover of Bobby Charles' "I Hope."

He returned on stage for a third time for a longer encore. He started off fast and hard with a fiery one-two punch of "Green Shirt" and "(The Angels Wanna Wear) My Red Shoes."

Costello then wound down, closing out the night with the moody "Tripwire," which bled into a snippet of "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding"; following it up with "If I Could Believe."

He ended the night on the keyboard for two slower numbers: "For the Stars" and "The Puppet Has Cut His Strings."

The change in instruments was more evidence that Costello is much more than a prolific and talented singer-songwriter. He is a chameleon of musical talent, whose weekend stop in Easton proved just he doesn't have to play by the book to get appreciation and respect from his fans.