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Dressed like a gay Confederate general — pencil mustache, powder blue waist-coast, flat-brimmed hat, tight pants with racing stripes — Bob Dylan spent the first eighth of his show clearing his throat in song. Which was not awesome. But perhaps to be expected from a 67-year-old, who's spent most of his life on the road and the last 20 years on a tour that's gone on so long fans call it the “Never Ending Tour.”
By the third song, he was mumbling and speak-singing, still phlegmatically, but in a way that wasn't defined by hacking and almost sounded sonorous compared to the openers. Some boomers sitting near me looked on with a curled-lip, but most everyone else seemed to know the score: Enunciation is not a hallmark of modern touring Dylan. Nor is playing familiar songs straight. But his band, including long-time bassist Tony Garnier and four other crack improvisers, always makes everything swing.
The set list, available on-line at bobdylan.com (awesomely with streaming snippets), was split mostly between songs from the last two albums, “Love and Theft” and “Modern Times,” and '60s era classics. You'd only know by looking on-line, but early on, he did “John Brown,” an impassioned anti-war protest from 1963 not released on album until the “Unplugged” album, and a few songs later, “Wheels on Fire,” which he and Rick Danko wrote together back when the Band was his band.
The highlight of the night, unquestionably, was an emphatic, stripped-down version of “Masters of War.” The rhythm section took the lead — George Receli issued out cannonball blasts from his kick-drum. And somehow, Dylan sang clearly. “Come masters of war / You build all the guns…”