At KeyArena on Saturday night, Bob Dylan seemed to be enjoying himself. On "Cry a While," off the "Love and Theft" album, he played Fats Domino-like piano and he and his band turned "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" from political anthem into a rollicking, gospel song.

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Concert Review |

When the stage lights came up at KeyArena on Saturday, Bob Dylan was already behind the keyboard, his instrument of choice for the past decade. He began with “Watching the River Flow,” which was appropriate given the wide-brimmed riverboat hats he favors these days.

The audience wildly applauded at song’s end. That love was not just for the performance, but also to acknowledge what Dylan’s catalog of songs has meant to his fans. This show meant a lot, as well.

Though the set was only 14 songs, it included chestnuts like “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Those nuggets were performed with arrangements that bore little similarity to the originals.

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Dylan only spoke to introduce the band, but when he sang, his voice was improved from previous tours. He seemed most animated on “Cry a While,” off the “Love and Theft” album, on which he played Fats Domino-like piano.

It was that piano that was central to the show. A version of “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” turned the political anthem into a rollicking, gospel song. It was the concert’s highlight if only because Dylan’s piano solo was a moment when his musicianship overshadowed his band.

He moved away and stood to sing “Ballad of Hollis Brown” but was back behind the keyboard for “Mississippi.” “Highway 61 Revisited” followed.

“Things Have Changed,” a late-career classic, was another highlight. The crack band, led by Charlie Sexton, soloed often on it, and with feeling.

On some recent tours Dylan appeared to be going through the motions. Though he played nothing from his excellent album “Tempest,” on Saturday he seemed engaged and to be enjoying himself. Only “Blowin’ in the Wind” felt perfunctory, phoned in.

Mark Knopfler opened the show, and with his seven-piece band also made the evening a special night. With Dylan’s concentration on New Orleans-inspired piano, it was ironic that Knopfler’s set was the one more rooted in folk and country traditions.

Though Knopfler humbly said he was “just glad to be along” on the Dylan tour, his 70-minute set was as long as Dylan’s. It was a testament to all the musicians onstage Saturday — some legends, some not — that it felt like the show ended too soon.

There are usually some in the audience at any Dylan show who attend simply because they wouldn’t miss what might be their last chance to see Dylan play. Here’s hoping they won’t have to.

Charles R. Cross: therocketmagazinelives@ or

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