Aside from his famously ragged voice, Bob Dylan brought a smooth touch to his show on Sunday at TD Garden, spending much of the concert at a piano, hammering out contemplative melodies beneath lyrics that ran from boasts to ruminations.
The slow burn began with "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," which Dylan transformed into a ragtime arrangement, chopping up lyric phrasings to fit the tempo shifted from its original country lope. Dylan's voice was full and clear from the start, which isn't always the case, and made for a nice launch.
Guitarist Mark Knopfler, who opened with his band, joined Dylan's troupe for three songs, beginning with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." Knopfler and Dylan's guitar team of pedal-steel player Donnie Herron and six-stringers Stu Kimball and Charlie Sexton whipped up a thick, mournful tone as Dylan punctuated the fractured love tale with harp and piano riffs.
Then things got weird. With Knopfler on stage, Dylan didn't need to add another guitar, so he just stood center stage for "Things Have Changed," dancing around and barking the lyrics like an exhortation to anyone who has ever crossed him. Knopfler remained for a vastly reworked "Tangled Up in Blue" in which Dylan sliced through the tranquil arrangement with jagged vocal phrasings.
Though Knopfler left after that, a pattern was in place in which the band kept a cool, steady tone and Dylan incrementally raised and lowered the temperature of the songs.
"Early Roman Kings" came off of the recently released "Tempest" album and stood tall as a bit bitter, honking blues full indictment and swagger. Then Dylan turned reflective with "Trying to Get to Heaven," slowly working through the song's haunted twists and turns.
The next song pair worked in similar fashion as "Summer Days" was breezy and fun and "Visions of Johanna" induced reflection.
Aside from a poignant read of "Forgetful Heart" and a sermon-delivering "Thunder on the Mountain," Dylan rode out the bottom half of the concert with classics, albeit shaping them into the vibe he conjured at the top half.
"Highway 61 Revisited" could have used a bit more kick, but the coiled-tension approach worked just fine on "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "All Along the Watchtower."
Dylan ended his show with "Blowin' in the Wind," which sounded as sincere in its majestic shade of blues as it originally did in a ragged folk setting.
Knopfler's 80-minute opening set focused on newer material from "Privateering," which is a rich blend of mashed-up folk traditions. Knopfler and his seven-piece band bridged Celtic to country, and the leader's guitar picking remains impeccable. Knopfler ended with a nod to his Dire Straits days, playing "So Far Away."