by MELISSA RUGGIERI
Costello, Dylan prove an engaging pairing
After Brit's solo set, Dylan mixes it up on keyboard and guitar
Once a year, concert industry magazine Pollstar awards the most creative tour package of the season.
The 2007 winner can already be named.
As striking a pairing in reality as on paper, Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello brought their legacy, cynicism and airtight songbook to John Paul Jones Arena last night.
Though Costello, chipper and grinning in a black suit and trademark black specs, referred to himself and fledgling soulster Amos Lee as Dylan's opening acts, Costello should never be relegated to secondary status.
After giving the nearly sold-out crowd of about 6,500 a hearty "How are ya?", he burst into "Either Side of the Same Town" and "Veronica," attacking his acoustic guitar with electrifying vigor. Even in acoustic form -- Costello performed his hour-long set solo -- and missing its glossy sheen, the song still bopped infectiously. What else can you expect from a pop tune partially constructed by Paul McCartney?
The British Costello cheerfully accepted his many ovations with the curl of a smile that suggested he basked in the adoration. But, even when sharing a witty yarn about his two American-born sons and their chances of becoming president over Arnold Schwarzenegger, it was evident that Costello had a deeper message to convey.
A biting "kind of campaign song" written with T-Bone Burnett contained the chorus "It's not very far from sulfur to sugar cane," and Costello altered the lyrics to the pensive ballad "Scarlet Tide" to include "Admit you lied and bring the boys back home" -- a line greeted with impassioned cheers from the audience.
The crowd spanning many ages retained its enthusiasm when Dylan and his five-piece band, dressed in identical sidewalk-gray suits and black fedoras, crept on stage.
Dylan, clad in a black suit with a flat-brimmed cowboy hat hovering over his craggy face, plowed into his fusion of blues, country and rock, his guttural rasp of a voice swallowing every word.
But this Charlottesville stop afforded a setlist more familiar than other dates on this joint tour that began last weekend in Georgia.
On "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," Dylan injected eloquent pauses between the syllables, burning up the fret board of his guitar while lead guitarist Denny Freeman did the same, both seemingly lost in their own musical world.
While he spent some of his 100-minute set caressing the guitar, Dylan appeared most comfortable behind the keyboard, knees bent and shoulders hunched over the keys.
"Tangled Up in Blue" was Dylanized with an unrecognizable cadence, but those groovy keyboards were unmistakable, especially as he played with his right hand, the left one busy with the harmonica at his mouth.
At times, especially during "Watching the River Flow" and "Workingman's Blues," Dylan's voice was more akin to hacking up phlegm than singing. But isn't that part of the reason people revere him so much?
Though pockets of the show trudged with similar-sounding chord progressions, when Dylan and his crew blazed through "Highway 61 Revisited," they sounded like the tightest bar band this side of the Mississippi.
While those seated on the floor stood and clapped along for much of the show -- especially set-closer "All Along the Watchtower" -- many in the side levels remained seated. They would nod politely to the beat and try to decipher a single word, figuring at least they can tell their friends today that they saw the legendary Dylan live.