If Bob Dylan had accomplished nothing more in his career beyond writing such evergreen anthems as ''Blowin' in the Wind" and ''The Times They Are A-Changin,' " he would probably still garner cheers just for walking down the street.
But, of course, Dylan has had one of the most illustrious careers in the history of pop music, spanning 40 years as a seminal artist who influenced both the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, and whose songs have been covered by fellow musicians from Patti LaBelle to Guns 'N Roses.
Still, at the first of three sold-out shows at the Orpheum Theatre last night, he earned every thunderous ovation with a tight, upbeat show packed with a country-blues swing that had more than a few people grooving in their seats.
Nattily dressed in a black Western-style suit and white cowboy hat, Dylan launched into a spirited ''To Be Alone with You." Hunched like a question mark over a keyboard where he spent most of his evening, Dylan occasionally smiled as he croaked out the lyrics in that inimitable rusty hinge of a voice. He also played a fair amount of harmonica -- no, make that blues harp, that was as thrilling as it was unexpected.
Not much for between-song chats with the audience, Dylan, backed with a stellar five-piece band, kept his show flowing, going from one powerhouse number into the next. Another standout was ''Shelter from the Storm," which had many in the audience singing along.
That was also the case during Merle Haggard's wonderful 45-minute set, during which one might have surmised that there may have been just as many people there to see the country legend as were there to see Dylan. With his band, the Strangers, Haggard offered such classics as ''Mama Tried," ''Misery and Gin," and ''White Line Fever." Every line of sorrow and joy is etched in Haggard's face -- his hard-living days are legend -- but his voice is still as sound and pure as Sunday morning. To borrow an old line, he was country not only before county was cool, but when country music was still great.
Sweet-voiced Amos Lee, a Philadelphia singer-songwriter, was warmly received during a 30-minute set featuring several tracks, including ''Arms of a Woman," ''Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight," and ''Bottom of the Barrel" from his eponymous debut, released early this year.