With a voice as raspy as a foghorn, growling out his lyrics in staccato bursts, Bob Dylan delivered nearly two hours of surprises in concert last night at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater.
The inimitable artist, backed by a five-piece band, performed 16 songs dating from 1964 s I Don t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) to four tunes from his 2006 Grammy-winning disc, Modern Times.
The 66-year-old folk-rock icon never gives audiences what they expect, and always pushes himself and his fans to find new ways to consider the familiar.
Last night, Dylan covered such classics as Lay, Lady, Lay, Like a Rolling Stone, and When I Paint My Masterpiece, but retooled the songs for this tour, reshaping them with new tempos and arrangements to suit his mood and the twangy guitars of his roots-rock band.
The setting was perfect for the sold-out zoo concert, which is the best venue in Toledo when the weather cooperates. Last night the risks of an outdoor show paid off with mild, low-70s temperatures and not a wisp of rain.
As the scent of incense wafted over the crowd, Dylan strode from the back of the 1930s-era bandshell to the front of the stage, slipped a Fender Stratocaster guitar strap over his shoulder, and without saying a word launched into Cat s in the Well.
His voice was extremely foggy at first, but warmed up as the night progressed. Dylan leaned back and strummed the riveting chords as Donnie Herron played fiddle and Denny Freeman added harmonic riffs on lead guitar.
The rhythm section of George Recile on drums, Tony Garnier on bass, and Stu Kimball on rhythm guitar provided supple support as Dylan blazed his way through a midtempo, bluesy rendition of When I Paint My Masterpiece and a driving version of Watching the River Flow that churned along like a paddlewheel steamer, Dylan tossing out verses in quick, monotone bursts.
Herron played steel guitar on the 1969 ballad Lay, Lady, Lay, with Dylan accentuating his rhythm guitar work with a few brief but impressive lead guitar riffs, kicking his leg up as he fired off the notes.
Dylan switched to keyboards for a rollicking When the Levee Breaks, and planted himself there for the rest of the night, never again picking up the guitar.
Amid all the gems was one clunker, Floater (Too Much to Ask), from 2001 s Love and Theft CD. The band stumbled through the tune with a dancehall beat and loopy organ tones that seemed caught somewhere between a vaudeville stage and a circus tent.
But High Water picked up the pace with a smoldering beat, accented by Herron s bouncy banjo intro and deft guitar work from Freeman.
One of the highlights of the night was Spirit on the Water, a slow ballad that stirred shouts of adulation when Dylan sang: You think I m over the hill. You think I m past my prime. Let me see what you ve got. We can have a whoppin good time.
The zoo crowd cheered to let their hero to know that they know he s not over the hill.
Highway 61 Revisited was a barn-burner and one of the few times the band stuck close to a song s original arrangement.
Summer Days was straight out of the 1950s three-chord rock era, and Dylan wrapped up the show with a subdued and steady-rolling version of Like a Rolling Stone, which sounded more reflective and mature, and less chaotic and threatening, than the original recording
After five minutes of pleading, the band returned for a two-song encore -- Thunder on the Mountain, in which Dylan addressed the audience for the first and only time by introducing his band, and the rousing closer, All Along the Watchtower.
Although Dylan had to overcome a froggy voice at first and a band whose overall sound tended toward sameness despite Herron s frequent instrument switches -- he has earned a spot in the pantheon of contemporary popular music and his fiery spirit, creative genius, and imposing body of work make every concert a memorable adventure.
Opening the concert was guitar ace Jimmie Vaughan, who played a solid set of Texas blues backed by a three-piece band. The older brother of the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie is one of the most tasteful blues guitarists on the planet, and in addition to his solid playing gave the crowd a thrill when he put the guitar behind his head and played a lengthy solo.
Strong-voiced blues singer Lou Ann Barton joined Vaughan s band for four songs shining on the saucy blues of Scratch My Back.
Contact David Yonke at email@example.com or 419-724-6154.