Bob Dylan is having fun again.
The grizzled legend, looking snazzy in a jet-black suit, revisited and revised some of his most beloved songs, mixed them with a few of his newest, and showed that time hasn't diminished his greatness. He's just more comfortable with it now.
Strumming his guitar, often with his feet in wide stance, sometimes pivoting one leg on his tippy-toe, he not only sang with purposefulness and a newfound clarity, he also spoke a few times (mostly "Thanks, folks") and even smiled!
He broke into a grin when his two veteran, equally legendary tour mates, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell, joined him Saturday in a celebratory "I Shall Be Released." Trading verses, Mitchell forgot Dylan's lyrics and ad-libbed her own, with Dylan nodding approval. Morrison seemed awed to be onstage with The Great One, lingering close to him even when they weren't singing together. Dylan applauded his friends as he watched them leave the stage. "Well, all right," he said.
As he has often done in recent years, Dylan reworked his old songs, opening them up to new interpretation. "The Times They Are A-Changin"' was done in a basic, old-timey folk style, placing it in a new context, as past history. "Silvio" rocked more than ever, driven by the energy of his young, talented, unobtrusive band. "Absolutely Sweet Marie" was slowed down to ballad speed, deepening its nostalgia and mystery.
New songs, mostly from his most recent album, "Time Out of Mind," his best work in years, blazed as brightly as his classics. They, too, were pure Dylan - some chugging along to rock rhythms, others introspective and moody.
With so many old favorites, and with high ticket prices, cynics might say he was playing to the crowd, giving them what they want. But Dylan was just being Dylan, without compromise or excuse.
Morrison opened the show with a perfect set, aided by a top-flight band. The great Irish singer-songwriter was in a mystic groove, and the audience felt it. His passion for American blues, his spiritualism, his brilliant sense of drama and rhythm, his wry humor all shined brightly.
He, too, rummaged through his trunkful of classics, coming up with songs that still had the power to move body and soul. "Domino," "Jackie Wilson Said," "Moondance," "Tupelo Honey" - they all sounded fresh and vital. He sang "That's Life" as a tribute to Frank Sinatra, making himself not only a pauper and a poet, but also pope and president.
Morrison, prolific in recent years, also showed that his new songs, such as "It Was Once My Life," "Hold That Dream" and "Burning Ground," stand with his classics.
Mitchell apologized for not playing many of her signature tunes, saying she had little time to prepare for the tour. Only two surfaced, "Big Yellow Taxi" (including one verse parodying Dylan) and "Woodstock," both solos.
She presented a contrast - a highly personal, often slow-moving, poetic and beautiful set, marked by her fine singing and guitar-playing (she hardly needed her four-piece backup band). In a good mood, she frequently laughed and joked.
She needn't have apologized. She was being herself and that's all she needed to be.