MANSFIELD — On a bill put together and headlined by Bob Dylan, it was hard not to connect the dots between his iconic work and how it affected the artists who shared the stage with him.
Maybe that’s why Jim James, frontman for My Morning Jacket, suddenly sounded so much like late-’60s Dylan (circa “Nashville Skyline”) when he was singing “Slow Slow Tune.” Or when Wilco opened its set with Woody Guthrie’s “Airline to Heaven,” you remembered that a young Dylan was similarly molded by Guthrie’s legacy.
James has always sung like that, of course, and Wilco has performed that Guthrie song before. But in the context of the Americanarama Festival of Music, which came to Comcast Center on Saturday, all of the acts were undeniably sons of Dylan.
AMERICANARAMA FESTIVAL OF MUSIC
The man himself was in rare form, especially at the start of the show. With his five-piece band (led by Charlie Sexton’s superb efforts on guitar) clustered close behind him, Dylan opened his set strong, drawing on last year’s “Tempest” and beyond.
Standing center stage — left hand on his hip, the other on the microphone stand — he looked and sang like the ringleader of a circus that had just pulled in to town. His knees dipped a little to accent a turn of phrase. There’s a big difference when he’s singing away from the piano he typically plays. Wait. Was Dylan just dancing a bit? Yes, sort of.
Without ever addressing the audience, he still seemed more engaged and invested than usual. As expected, he and the band deconstructed some of his most well-known songs (“Desolation Row,” “Simple Twist of Fate”), turning them inside out with reworked arrangements.
That didn’t always work. A closing encore of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” set to a loose country shuffle, was listless — and Dylan’s meandering piano playing didn’t help — to the point of countering the poignancy of the lyrics.
It’s always humorous to watch his audience remain silent for a song and then suddenly applaud after catching a familiar lyric. It’s as if the inner monologue goes: “ ‘Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through’? Hey, I know that! It’s ‘Tangled Up in Blue.’ ” (I confess I did not recognize “All Along the Watchtower” — until someone told me afterward.)
Wilco eased into its 70-minute set, starting slow and steady before blowing out “Impossible Germany” and “Art of Almost,” both bolstered by guitarist Nels Cline’s monstrous fretwork. “Via Chicago” was even more explosive, punctuated by sudden, violent outbursts — pummeling drums and guitar dissonance and flying fingers on the keyboard — while frontman Jeff Tweedy carried on as if nothing were happening around him.
My Morning Jacket’s performance had a similarly psychedelic sprawl. The spectral glow of “Dondante” was simply transcendent, with James and guitarist Carl Broemel locking into a tight harmony sung at full throttle.
There was camaraderie among the bands, too, with Wilco inviting My Morning Jacket to join them for a particularly cacophonous cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” MMJ also brought out opener Ryan Bingham to dig deep into “Don’t Do It.”
At a recent stop in Toronto, Dylan played a song with Tweedy and James; no such luck in Mansfield. But his shadow was cast long over every performer who stepped onstage.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.