Elvis Costello in Morristown: Who needs a band?

MorristownGreen.com: Kevin Coughlin: 29th November 2013.

Armed with a few guitars, some effects pedals and a keyboard, Elvis Costello single-handedly channeled the energy of an entire ensemble for two-and-a-half hours at Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center on Thanksgiving Eve.

He still might be banging out encores, too, if spectators had not felt compelled to head home and start roasting their birds.

So in this regard, at least, Rock and roll’s Angry Young Man–who once sparked a mini-riot Down Under by skipping encores after a short set–has mellowed in middle age.

Maybe Elvis was celebrating the end of his 2013 solo tour. Or perhaps, at 59, the singer-songwriter was in no hurry to rush home to 7-year-old twins.

In any case, the concert caught fire when Elvis finally emerged from the wings, after completing an exploration of some of his lesser known chestnuts, to invite audience requests.

Spectators had been almost reverent to that point. But they went wild as Elvis ripped through Oliver’s Army, Alison and (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.

Feeding off the crowd’s enthusiasm, he romped through two sets of encores, totaling 17 songs–essentially, a second show.

Once infamous for scathing and intemperate remarks, the mature version of Elvis Costello seems comfortable sharing his wry sense of humor.

He introduced one song on Wednesday with a funny anecdote about the co-author of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel.

(The Elvis in Elvis Costello is, of course, a tribute to Presley; the other half of Declan MacManus’ stage name is a nod to his father, who performed under the name Day Costello.)

The Presley writer had pulled Costello aside to share how The King once donned a disguise to catch a show during the Englishman’s first tour of America.

This was quite a feat, Costello recounted, since Presley had been dead for about four months when that tour began.

Elvis Costello also described how the song Harry Worth emerged after his younger self–who “tried to rid the world of alcohol by drinking it”–stumbled into a hotel bar where a wedding reception for an ill-fated couple was under way.

At another moment in Wednesday’s show, a spectator shouted that she loved Elvis. Without missing a beat, he shot back: “I love you, too–individually and as a group.”

In another era, Elvis Costello might have been a poet. Mocking his own love of words, he once dubbed himself “rock and roll’s Scrabble champion.”  One of the amazing things from this concert–his second straight night in Morristown–was how, with few cheat sheets, he remembered a torrent of lyrics. Thirty-six songs’ worth.

The other thing that stood out was how hard he is to categorize.  Elvis Costello has written orchestral pieces for ballet; collaborated with ex-Beatles and Burt Bacharach and jazz singer Diana Krall, his wife; performed in tributes to The Clash and recorded with Tony Bennett;  and appeared in episodes of Two and a Half Men and Frasier.

His songs don’t go where you expect. His phrasing and chord changes don’t sound like anyone else.  In a world of imitators, Elvis Costello is unique.