“Should my heart not be humble, should my eyes fail to see,” Bob Dylan sang with apt humility on Friday night, wrapping up his show at the Orpheum. “Should my feet sometimes stumble on the way, stay with me.”
The voice was unmistakable, if somehow more fluid, less charred, than much of what had come before. But the words were Carol Leigh’s, set by Jerome Moross. That “Stay With Me” merited pride of place as the last word in a Dylan gig was down to an interpreter who had delivered it memorably decades earlier: Frank Sinatra.
The idea of linking Dylan and Sinatra might once have seemed unthinkable. Weren’t they polar opposites: the mythopoeic troubadour and the platinum crooning rat?
But in May, when a Dylan cover of another Sinatra staple, “Full Moon & Empty Arms,” prompted buzz of a tribute LP, Michael Hann compared the icons in an essay for The Guardian. Both, he contended, elevated the album above its origins as a clutch of hits plus filler. Both took on material that posited a thorough assumption of the popular canon. Each could be proclaimed a master of reinvention and spin.
On Friday, Dylan supported those claims throughout a show weighted almost entirely toward songs issued since the turn of the 21st century. His set list included six of the 10 cuts from 2012’s “Tempest,” a highlight among Dylan’s spate of vital late-career documents, and a fetching amble through a span of pre-rock Americana: buoyant waltz, lilting swing, dusty shuffles, growling blues.
Aficionados had heard it all before, and recently; Dylan’s set has changed little on the latest legs of his Never Ending Tour. Audience members longing for snatches of the great man’s vintage canon were contented (or not) with “She Belongs to Me,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” retouched in ways that spoke to continued investigation rather than jaded tinkering.
Dylan, ever embodying paradox, seemed both stony and engaged, rod-straight behind three microphones at center stage or rumbling at a piano off to one side. Charlie Sexton telegraphed ache, swagger, and sting in economical parcels of lead guitar; Donnie Herron colored scenes and heightened sensations with pedal steel, mandolin, and fiddle. Rhythm guitarist Stu Kimball, bassist Tony Garnier, and drummer George Receli kept supple pace.
For the encore, before “Stay With Me,” Dylan offered a wheeling, swinging permutation of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” With a little imagination, you could just about make out the contours of another singer’s anthem: “That’s Life.”Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.