At this point, anyone going to see Bob Dylan in concert expecting to be comforted by the familiar contours of his vaunted discography would be better off staying home with their long players.
Saturday night, in the first of two sold-out shows at the Agganis Arena, the willful and wily legend continued the radical reinvention of his back pages with a vigorous two- hour set that was chock full of titles that were recognizable, but little else that was.
It's not just the timings that have changed in the 65-year-old's repertoire , but the melodies, the rhythms , and the genres , as folk tunes were transformed into swampy blues and rockers into noirish country shuffles by his crackerjack backing quintet.
Which meant that opener "Maggie's Farm" went from a trot to a gallop, and the amble of "She Belongs to Me" became a swing anchored by Dylan's surging synth chords. His vocals shape-shifted as well, as his crusty pipes went from a whisper behind the beat to an attack dog bark on top of it for "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "Tangled Up in Blue."
The generation-spanning crowd, many seemingly well-versed in the recent rearrangements, cheered familiar lines and the short but piquant solos that bubbled to the surface of the bar band blues vamps, baseball stadium organ romps, and occasionally overlong, destination- free jams. Judging by his periodic outburst s of happy feet, the script flipping is also working just fine for Dylan himself.
Dipping a bit deeper, "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" was particularly strong as Dylan coaxed a shockingly big organ sound from his small keyboard and imbued the haunting tale of desperation and murder with tent revival urgency.
Acknowledging that he has in fact produced music in the new millennium, Dylan played a few tunes from 2001's "Love and Theft" and this year's "Modern Times" and went easy on the remix impulse, scoring a huge cheer with the closing stanza of the refreshingly romantic " Spirit on the Water."
"You think I'm over the hill," he rasped, "think I'm past my prime. Let me see what you got. We can have a whoppin' good time."
Even when playing N ame That Tune with encores "Like a Rolling Stone" and "All Along the Watchtower," the crowd seemed to agree.
The Raconteurs opened with a hot set that in their own Dylan-esque fashion stretched out and reshaped a few tunes from their raucous debut, "Broken Boy Soldiers."