Rock royalty Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello came to Bridgeport Sunday night, and an appreciative crowd of about 7,000 flocked to the Arena at Harbor Yard to welcome them.
Seeing Dylan in concert can be a hit-and-miss proposition especially if you haven't seen him perform live in many years. His once-nasal voice is now completely gravelly and he almost blurts out his lyrics in grunts, but this is Dylan and nobody ever confused him with Sinatra.
What the fans came out for was to see him perform the songs they grew up with in the '60s and '70s, when he was the "Voice of a Generation," in the words of Jack Nicholson. In that regard, he didn't disappoint, starting his 110-minute set with the classics "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," "It Ain't Me Babe" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight."
Also mixed in were a few cuts from his latest album, "Modern Times," where his "new" voice is a better fit for the old-style tunes on that disc.
Having seen Dylan a couple of times in the past five years, it strikes me that his singing gets better as his concerts progress. I don't know if it's just a matter of getting acclimated to his sing-speak style, but by the time he led the audience down "Highway 61 Revisited," it was easy to see why Dylan's still a draw. "I Shall Be Released" was another late-show highlight. It also helps that Dylan always surrounds himself with world-class musicians and this tour is no exception. On previous excursions, he had multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell as his not-so-secret weapon. Filling that role now is Donnie Herron, who plays violin, mandolin, and steel guitars.
Costello, on the other hand, I expected to shine, and he did. From the opening chords of his classic "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," through some of his lesser-known songs, Costello was in top form and the audience loved it, rewarding him with a well-deserved standing ovation as he left the stage.
Costello even recalled his last visit to the Park City, which was nearly three decades ago.
"It's good to be back in Bridgeport," he said midway through his set. "I think the last time I was here I played a jai-alai stadium whatever that is."
Costello also managed to sneak Bridgeport into the lyrics of his new song, "From Sulfur to Sugar Cane."
If there was anything negative to say about Costello's set, it was that it was too short. Clocking in at just 45 minutes, I could have listened to him all night. On his first solo tour in 12 years, Costello was every bit as entertaining as when he's backed by his band.
One of the highlights of a Costello show is his humor, his Irish wit regaling the crowd with off-the-cuff quips and colorful anecdotes and, unfortunately, his brief time on stage limited this repartee. He did get a laugh talking about his 10-month-old twin sons — his wife is jazz singer-pianist Diana Krall — and how they're on tour with him.
"I think it's safe to say we're raising them as carnie kids," he quipped. "They're on the tour bus with us, smoking cigars and playing cards."
Opening act Amos Lee was a revelation during his 35 minutes on stage, a perfect complement to the headliners. His roots rock was often augmented by a sweeping organ sound, reminiscent of Dylan's '70s work with Al Kooper and Costello's forays into Americana with his longtime keyboardist Steve Nieve.
Lee, a Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter, was equally assured when leading his four backing musicians in his electric guitar-driven numbers. Getting the opening slot for two bona fide rock legends could have been a daunting task, but Lee pulled it off with style.