Say what you will about Bob Dylan — at 66, the man still knows how to rock. Dylan is a musical icon, a living legend. He's one of the few socially conscious folk-rock troubadours to survive the '60s.
And we all should be very thankful he did. Dylan filled Charlottesville's John Paul Jones Arena Thursday with his blues- and country-infused brand of classic rock 'n' roll.
Dylan and his five-piece band showed they still have what it takes to get an arena of thousands on their feet screaming. While most of that crowd was in the 40-and-up age group, there were also plenty of college kids and 20-somethings to be found.
Wearing a wide-brimmed, flat cowboy hat and slick black suit, his hips swinging and legs bouncing, Dylan displayed his talent on guitar, keyboard and harmonica. His band completed the sound with superbly performed acoustic and electric guitars, drums, bass guitar, upright bass, pedal steel guitar and keyboards.
It's really quite impressive that Dylan has made a career out of singing as if he's got a mouthful of cotton balls, but those nasally vocals are what make his voice unmistakable. Mumbly and at times indiscernible lyrics have always been a part of his charm.
The show was a veritable best-of bonanza, combining Dylan's '60s classics, tracks off his 2006 album, Modern Times, and many notable bits and pieces in between.
This mix could be attributed to the October release of Dylan, yet another greatest-hits album, or maybe it was because he has a solid, nearly four-decades-long songbook to pick from.
A particularly energetic performance of the 1965 hit "Highway 61 Revisited" really got the audience charged.
In "Spirit on the Water" from his Modern Times album, he jokes about his age:
"You think I'm over the hill.
You think I'm past my prime.
Let me see what you got.
We can have a whoppin' good time."
Dylan made the audience practically beg him to come back onstage for an encore. I guess when you're Bob Dylan you can make them wait an extra few minutes, just to be sure they make enough noise to warrant the effort of an extra two songs.
And what an encore it was. Dylan and his band played the up-tempo, hard-rocking "Thunder on the Mountain" from Modern Times and the pièce de résistance — his frequently covered 1967 guitar-driven masterpiece "All Along the Watchtower."
Opening for Dylan was fabulous post-new-wave rocker Elvis Costello, a headline-worthy act in his own right. He played an engaging and impressively energetic solo-acoustic set. Without any back-up musicians,
Costello was able to keep the audience attentive and entertained. His set included many of his classic hits "Alison," "Veronica,"(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Radio Sweetheart" and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding."
Wearing his signature thick-rimmed black glasses, Costello's British wit proved just as charming between tunes as it was during them.
Nearing the role of musical storyteller, he strummed his guitar for a few seconds, then told part of a story, strummed some more, told more story — until the story was told and the song began. He told tales of spotting
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a restaurant and recounted the genesis of his politically charged newer songs.
Costello and Dylan made for a solid tour pairing, with the former's charm and short, poppy songs complementing the latter's straight-to-business rocking jam sessions.
Both musicians might be from another era, but they proved their abilities to create great new music and perform it with as much energy as musicians one-third their age. A good song is timeless, and hearing so many performed live by the original artist was priceless.