WORCESTER - Bob Dylan has had impeccable taste in recent tour mates (Merle Haggard, the Raconteurs, Willie Nelson), but he might have found his best one yet in Elvis Costello.
The two are on the road this fall, and at the DCU Center last night, it was a complementary albeit water-and-oil pairing with Costello crisp and impassioned, Dylan murky and reflective.
As he has done previously, Dylan brought along Amos Lee to open, but when Costello took the stage, nearly leaping into the spotlight to launch into "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," it was like seeing Dylan in his '60s splendor: aggressive, hungry, and direct.
Costello is playing solo for the first time in more than 10 years, and his succinct set - 11 songs funneled into precisely 45 minutes - was fiery and intimate, as if no one had told him he was in an arena. What he lost from a backing band he recovered with just an acoustic guitar he battered one minute and caressed the next.
He didn't waste a second with chit-chat and instead belted out "Either Side of the Same Town," quieting the crowd into a hush before pumping it up into a call-and-response on "The River in Reverse."
That audience enthusiasm spilled over into Dylan's set, which opened promisingly with an electric guitar slung around Dylan's shoulder as he sang "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat."
But the thrill of seeing him play the guitar again eroded by the fourth number, "John Brown," as he moved behind a keyboard and stayed there the rest of the night. Harmonica interludes peppered other songs ("Beyond the Horizon" and "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine").
He dispensed with the casual fan's favorites early on - with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" getting a big bluesy finish - and moved into more contemporary fare from his latest album, "Modern Times."
The newest incarnation of his band - with two guitarists, an upright bassist, a drummer, and a lap-steel player - kept the show lean and buoyant, filling in the blanks where Dylan opted to leave them.
With deadline looming, Dylan was reflecting on his own legacy with "Ain't Talkin'." "Heart burning, still yearning/ Some day you'll be glad to have me around," he sang. As his fans cheered after that line, it was obvious they already are.