About 200 lucky fans got a great wish granted last night: they saw Elvis Costello play an acoustic set of songs from his newest album in a downtown New York Irish pub.

Costello’s “secret show” was an excellent way to promote his new collection, produced with T Bone Burnett, called “Secret, Profane, & Sugarcane.”

The show — at Jim Brady’s on Maiden Lane, near Wall Street — came after Costello’s performance on NBC’s “Today” show, where he played what’s turning into a smart little hit, “Sulphur to Sugarcane.”

During the set, fans learned that Costello — whose eclectic career runs from power pop to punk to opera, Burt Bacharach and more — was influenced this time by stories about Hans Christian Andersen, Jenny Lind, and P.T. Barnum.

Lind, the Danish opera star of the 1800s, Costello declared was “the Celine Dion of her day.”

Andersen, he noted, who died in 1875, was “extremely ugly.”

Costello also told deejays from New York rock station WRXP FM, 101.9, which sponsored the event, that the one collaborator he was sorry he’d missed working with was Shakespeare. “He had some good lyrics.”

In that regard, Costello — newly svelte and ready to hit the road for a summer tour — revealed that he and country legend Loretta Lynn were working on a song tentatively titled, “Thank God for Jesus.”

“It’s incredible that no one thought of that song before,” he said.

Costello, thirty-plus years into an astonishing career, is clearly not aiming his music toward the Britney Spears set. As usual, his songs are urbane and catchy. He’s still challenging his audience even as he’s sweeping them off their feet with sweet pop melodies, justaposed with complex lyrics.

My favorite, from “My All Time Doll”: “In the far flung cry of a closing saloon/On the blank back side of that poisonous moon/I tried not to think about you/I thought I was immune.”

Take that, Spears fans.

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