Archive for in performance

in performance: dierks bentley/jon pardi/tenille townes/hot country knights

Dierks Bentley. Photo by Jim Wright.

Perhaps the most concise way of summarizing Dierks Bentley’s return concert to Rupp Arena on Thursday evening is by viewing it as a set of before and after portraits.

The “before” image was the least telling of the two. It came at the stroke of 7 p.m. when the country star donned a mullet wig, ‘80s style shades and a bit of an amateur hour/lounge lizard stage persona. Here, Bentley transformed himself into the hapless Doug Douglasson, lead singer of a cover band called Hot Country Knights with a repertoire that stuck to ‘90s era country hits like Travis Tritt’s “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” and Sawyer Brown’s “Some Girls Do.”

What transpired was fun and very purposeful deconstruction with Bentley… er, Douglasson… and pals squabbling for the spotlight and high-stepping through some imploding chorus line choreography. It was half Louvin Brothers and half Marx Brothers, but mostly an intriguing (and quite rare) glimpse of a country celebrity willing to let loose and poke fun at himself.

The “after” shot arrived at 9:30 when Bentley, sans the hijinks and costuming, got down to business with an energetic set that emphasized the anthemic and affirmative lyrical bent of his last five albums.

The show-opening “Burning Man” set the mood with layers of syncopated ensemble might, a tasteful vocal roar from Bentley and orchestral guitar color from Brownsville native Ben Helson that would regularly propel much of the program’s drive.

At times, Bentley and his band allowed the lyrical sway of his narratives to trigger some of the show’s more intriguing instrumental passages, as with the brief but arresting bluegrass-esque breakdown that concluded “The Mountain.” In other instances, the lyrics triggered conversational turns in Bentley’s singing, especially during the back-to-back affirmations “Living” (his newest single) and “Riser.”

That’s not to say these “after” images didn’t loosen things up at times. “Am I Only One,” in fact, was sung with Bentley walking the length of the arena floor, slapping hands with some of the 5,200 fans on hand, while enroute to a second stage late into the show. The party material didn’t slide into country convention, save for “Somewhere on a Beach,” a weirdly conciliatory nod to Kenny Chesney-like pop. Other than that, the mullet-wearing class clown and the affirmative yet assertive country star managed an impressive balancing act.

Sandwiched between Bentley’s sets were performances by California singer Jon Pardi and Canadian newcomer Tenille Townes.

Pardi had a rough night. His performance was fine – a strong slab of electric honky tonk tunes (“Night Shift,” “Paycheck” and the new “Heartache Medicine”) highlighted by an assured, if not entirely distinctive vocal command. Musically, it was a more focused and traditionally accented outing than Pardi’s opening set for Miranda Lambert a year ago at Rupp. But onstage sound problems, which did not seem evident from the audience, got the better of the singer, causing him to tear out his ear monitors, blast the set as “probably the worst performance of the tour” (an estimation he later rescinded and apologized for) and even halt his show momentarily.

Townes took to Rupp with a big beat and even bigger bell bottoms for the electric “White Horse.” Her brief set reflected a voice that sounded more the product of ‘90s alternative pop than contemporary country (think Blind Melon had it come from Nashville). But the mix was appealing nonetheless, from the good-natured cheer of “I’m Gonna Find You” and “Where You Are” to the cautious professions of faith revealed within the eulogy of “Jersey on the Wall.” “If I ever get to heaven,” Townes sang in the latter tune, “I got a long list of questions.”

in performance: steep canyon rangers/eric bolander

Steep Canyon Rangers. From left, Nicky Sanders, Barrett Smith, Woody Platt, Mike Guggino, Mike Ashworth and Graham Sharp. Photo by Sandlin Gaither.

It was with no small degree of irony that the Steep Canyon Rangers began their highly engaging performance last night at Manchester Music Hall with their two newest members going it alone – namely, drummer Mike Ashworth and bassist Barrett Smith. The rhythm section initiated a subtle groove that brought the rest of the Grammy winning North Carolina bluegrass troupe to the stage, turning the resulting momentum into the rhythmic sway of “Stand and Deliver.”

Wait a minute. Bluegrass bands have rhythm sections? Well sure, just not normally ones anchored by drums, as was the case with the continually evolving Rangers. Over the course of a one hour, 45-minute set, Ashworth didn’t simply embellish the grassy textures that more expected string instrumentation gave to tunes like “As I Go” and the encore finale of “The Speed We’re Traveling.” He also set up a driving jam (quickly commandeered by mandolinist Mike Guggino) during “Let Me Out of This Town,” provided Fairport Convention-esque Celtic propulsion under fiddler Nicky Sanders on “Take the Wheel” (where Smith took a guest turn on lead vocals) and dug in for a drum solo underscored by mandolin that eventually enlisted all of the Rangers for a giddy percussion romp.

While Ashworth’s prominence (augmented by his solid harmony singing throughout the performance) represented the biggest stylistic leap the Rangers have taken since their last Lexington visit in 2014, the rest of the show relied on essentials, like the juggling of lead vocal duties between guitarist Woody Platt and banjoist/songsmith Graham Sharp. Platt was at home with the easy country lyricism of “When She Was Mine” and a nicely relaxed cover of Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” while Sharp employed more conversationally smoky vocal colors for “Simple at Me.”

All of these elements converged during the title tune to the 2013 Rangers album “Tell the Ones I Love” that placed the train whistle fiddling of Sanders, the joint vocals of Platt and Sharp and some wild ensemble dynamics that gave the music an almost respiratory rhythm within a single bluegrass statement that both bowed to tradition and dashed madly away from it.

Local hero Eric Bolander opened the evening with a very appealing 50-minute trio set that utilized cellist Seth Murphy and drummer/harmony vocalist Ben Caldwell for an Americana mix that placed restless folk confessions within Southern fried frameworks. What resulted were songs like “The Road, “Fly” and the new “Montgomery Hill” that were rustic, rootsy and often elegant.

in performance: lexington philharmonic – “tango caliente”

Camille Zamora.

In bidding adieu to 2018, the Lexington Philharmonic opted for perhaps the most recognizable tango composition of any age, “La Cumparsita” at the Opera House on Monday evening.

A tune whose march-like momentum typifies not only tango’s irrepressible elegance and romance, but its rhythmic complexity, the performance was an all out melodic blitz with the orchestra underscoring the work’s unavoidably playful construction, dancers Sonya Tsekanovsky and Patricio Touceda acting out the music’s striking humanity in very physical terms and bandoneon soloist Hector Del Curto underscoring a sense of Argentine heart and soul for a traditionally evening-ending piece with roots that actually stem back to Uruguayan composer Geraldo Rodriguez. In the end, though, most every established tango orchestra has claimed a little piece of this prized music as their own creation. So did the Philharmonic during this robust New Year’s Eve celebration.

That was the obvious part. The program, titled “Tango Caliente,” celebrated numerous traditional corners of the music with arrangements primarily by Jeff Tyzik (a noted conductor and arranger who, for those with long local memories, was playing trumpet in contemporary jazz groups at the long demised Breeding’s on New Circle Road during the early 1980s). Some reached back to the late 19th century for the comic Ruperto Chapi zarzuela “Carceleras,” an aria-level work that proved a fitting vehicle for the operatic joy and clarity of soprano Camile Zamora. But it also shot forward to the 1935 Carlos Gardel tango “Por Una Cabeza” that John Williams’ arranged nearly 60 years later for the film “Scent of a Woman.”

But at the heart of this program sat the music of Astor Piazzolla, the renegade Argentine composer whose “Nuevo tango” movement largely upended tradition in his homeland and has only in recent decades been accepted enough by audiences and artists alike to fortify programs like “Tango Caliente.”

The Philharmonic largely avoided Piazzolla’s more jazz like tendencies, although there were discreet traces of them in a stunning solo delivery of “Che, Bandoneon” by Del Curto on the melodeon-like bandoneon (Piazzolla’s performance instrument of choice). Instead, focus was placed on the textures and resulting compositional complexity of Piazzolla’s music. “Primavera Portenia” had Del Curto mimicking the strings on bandoneon over the work’s inherent counterpoint while the more ghostly, organ-like colors he summoned within “Oblivion” introduced the cinematic feel of the Piazzolla pieces that followed in the program as well as ones, like the Tyzik original “Tango 1932,” that were directly inspired by Piazzolla.

All of this might sound like an overly academic exercise. It wasn’t. The Philharmonic rose to the many challenges of tango’s deceptively treacherous melodic turns while the guest soloists, especially Zamora, embraced the music’s open faced joy, even so far as to describe the operatic zarzuela construction of “Carceleras” as “Verdi at a salsa bar.”

It was a winning combination all around, one that used tango’s almost defiant beauty as a means of brilliant seasonal celebration. Caliente, indeed.

in performance: jason isbell

Jason .Isbell. Photo by Erika Goldring.

“We promise we don’t have any Christmas songs for you tonight,” remarked Jason Isbell prior to the kickoff of a sold out, two hour-plus acoustic performance Saturday at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. “We don’t have anything against Christmas songs. We’re just tired of them.”

With that, Isbell, guitarist Sadler Vaden and violinist (and wife) Amanda Shires dug into “24 Frames,” a panoramic country snapshot that underscored a poetic yet unsettled rural narrative. It exemplified the often restless nature of Isbell’s best songs, an attribute that has helped them take on massive electric personas when played by his full 400 Unit band (of which Vaden and Shires are members). Without a rhythm section or rockish amplification, the song’s appeal and potency were in no way compromised. The melodic flow of the tune may have been lighter, but its lyrical urgency was still luminous.

That’s how the rest of the 20-song set played out, as well. Some of the more Americana-inclined tunes from Isbell’s catalog, especially the whopping seven songs pulled from his 2013 breakthrough album “Southeastern,” seemed a natural fit for the acoustic trio. Especially arresting was the lonesome highway imagery conjured during “Traveling Alone,” where Shires’ violin colors offered a ghostly ambience.

But Isbell didn’t shy away from giving his more aggressive works a trim, as well. Topping that list was “Outfit,” a fan favorite from the songsmith’s past artistic life as a member of Drive-By Truckers. A story of tough fatherly love, the song is usually an electric monster in the hands of the 400 Unit. On Saturday, it fell again to Shires to do some of compensatory heavy lifting by replacing the searing power chords that drove the band version with thinner but suitably tense runs on the violin.

Ultimately, though, it was the plain speaking nature of the songs, along with Isbell’s steadfast delivery of them, that fueled the performance. A case in point: “Tupelo,” a work from 2017’s “The Nashville Sound” album that neatly summarized its sense of uneasy escape within a lean chorus lyric (“There ain’t no one from here that will follow me there”).

Unlike his shows with the 400 Unit, Isbell was loose and chatty between songs on Saturday, spinning yarns of devotion and denouncement. His topics included Bruce Springsteen, harmonica solos, composing songs while stranded at a muddy German festival and the as-yet unrealized concept of queso streaming.

Everything became quite orderly, however, when Isbell performed “Cover Me Up,” a song audience members began shouting for from the onset of the concert. The composition was essentially written for Shires, who usually performs her own music with her own band. Having Mrs. Isbell onstage singing harmony during a composition that wasn’t so much a love song as a tale of redemption was undeniably electric. This may have been an acoustic performance by design and intent, but at this moment, sparks flew generously.

in performance: the bad plus

The Bad Plus. From left: Dave King, Orrin Evans and Reid Anderson.

According to one of the producers of the Origins Jazz Series, the only problem in presenting the acclaimed jazz trio The Bad Plus in concert Sunday night at the Lexington Children’s Theatre were assumptions from unfamiliar patrons that the performance was going to somehow be a jazz program for children.

Sorry, kids. You were more than welcome to stay up and join the fun, but this was very much an evening of grown up jazz, a courageous and immensely listenable 90 minute set that delighted in deconstructing the standard design of the piano trio and, to a lesser extent, the very structure of The Bad Plus itself.

The show opening “Seams” set the evening’s battle plan quietly in motion by beginning with a slow, pastoral pattern from Orrin Evans. The pianist replaced Bad Plus co-founder Ethan Iverson at the onset of 2018. The contrasts between the two players were immediately placed on display. The “Seams” intro established a sense of dynamics the trio didn’t always choose to enforce in the past. Yes, Evans lacked a smidge of the wildness of his predecessor. Frankly, though, the earthy grace and general playfulness he brought to the performance, as suggested by the way his intro gradually brought bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King (the band’s other founding members) into the tune before letting the whole ensemble feel gently implode, more than compensated.

These quieter moments were quite striking, whether they came during the equally reserved sway of “Kerosene II” or the more ominous melodic flow of “Hurricane Birds.” But “Safe Passage” had the new Bad Plus offering a blast of vibrant ensemble energy punctuated by bright staccato stabs on piano from Evans and a percussive rumble from King that seemed to play tug of war with the melody. After three-and-a-half exuberant minutes, the tune said its peace and unceremoniously concluded.

All of these compositions came from the band’s newest album, “Never Stop II” and were penned by Anderson. But the cross-generational lexicon of The Bad Plus that won the Minneapolis band such a devout following with college-aged audiences (and largely filled LCT on Sunday) was addressed in very moving terms at the end of the evening with a cover of “Flim.”

The song, in its original form, was a relative obscurity pulled from a 1997 EP by Aphex Twin. But The Bad Plus made the tune its own on the 2003 breakthrough album, “These are the Vistas.” Evans remained faithful to the lyrical fancy of the “Vistas” arrangement, playing it almost as a children’s lullaby (what a coincidence, given the setting) with King adding a coda on a small, percussive wind-up toy.

But it was the lyrical innocence at the heart of the performance that was so gently overwhelming. It was a slice of welcoming comfort signally The Bad Plus had grown older but not entirely up.

in performance: alabama/ricky skaggs and kentucky thunder/the kentucky headhunters

Ricky Skaggs.

“It’s bluegrass time,” proclaimed Ricky Skaggs on Friday night at Rupp Arena, affirming not only his status as patriarch of the string music sound that has been the Lawrence County native’s lifelong calling, but also the home court advantage he and the co-billed Kentucky Headhunters held over headliner Alabama.

It would be easy to go all jingoistic and root for Skaggs’ current career resurgence, largely triggered by his recent induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the electric blues-country matrix of the Metcalfe County-rooted Headhunters simply because they are neighbors of sorts. But such favoritism wasn’t needed. The country-pop vets of Alabama were on very shaky performance ground last night and proved no match for the Kentucky acts they invited onto the bill.

For starters, only two of the four members that made Alabama a yearly sellout attraction at Rupp during the early ‘80s were on hand. Drummer Mark Herndon was not invited to take part in the extended reunions that followed Alabama’s initial disbanding in 2004, while co-founding guitarist Jeff Cook, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2017, is absent from the band’s current tour. That meant the Alabama lineup that performed with such ease as a four and five piece unit three decades ago was paired down to a duo backed by six support players.

What was left on Friday simply wasn’t a surefooted performance enterprise. Lead vocalist Randy Owen looked and sounded noticeably tired (he referenced having the flu during some between song banter). He presented relaxed and whispery readings of ballads like “Feels So Right” and “Lady Down on Love,” but ended most songs with reprises where he simply let the audience sing the chorus. Curiously, it was bassist Teddy Gentry – essentially, a silent partner during the band’s ‘80s heyday – that seemed to keep things together by taking on much of the stage chat and band interaction.

Interestingly enough, the song that seemed to finally pull the band together was a spirited reading of the pop-inflected title tune to 1983’s “The Closer You Get” album, a work penned by Central Kentucky songsmith and longtime Exile skipper J.P. Pennington. In many ways, that cemented the Kentucky presence that began to take hold at the onset of the evening.

During a brief, half-hour opening set, the Headhunters did what they have always done naturally – establish a rural country voice for heavily electric music that owed greatly to blues and blues-rock. Most modern country acts, in spot-checking their influences, don’t go much deeper than Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Headhunters referenced blue guitar giant Freddie King by way of a suitably soulful take on the chestnut “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” with guitarist Greg Martin ably channeling the song’s ageless blues muse. Ditto for the Chuck Berrry-style makeover of “Oh, Lonesome Me” and the band’s hit reading of “Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine” that owed more to “Honky Tonk Women” era Rolling Stones than it did to the song’s originator, bluegrass forefather Bill Monroe.

Speaking of bluegrass, that’s where Skaggs came in. Having been part of a neo-traditionalist movement in the mid ‘80s that helped dethrone bands like Alabama from country hierarchy, he now seems quite comfortable in his role as a scholarly string band elder.

Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder ensemble was more of a battalion than a band, armed with three guitarists, a monster fiddler (Mike Barnett) and a rhythmic command that was as strong as oak. That provided a very solid base of operations for nuggets like “How Mountain Girls Can Love” and “Black Eyed Suzie,” which bookended the 40 minute set, as well as bluegrass-modified arrangements of such vintage Skaggs country hits as “Highway 40 Blues” and a brief gospel segment highlighted by the homey testimony of Red Smiley’s “I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer.”

Nothing, though, matched the impact of watching the Rupp crowd of 7,500 on its feet, singing along with the chorus to the Monroe-penned standard “Uncle Pen” and then have Skaggs tear through the song’s melody on mandolin with warp speed accuracy. It was a brilliantly executed (and received) tribute from a Kentucky legend now in the midst of a hearty career renaissance to another Bluegrass inspiration that more than once made his presence known during this Rupp summit.

in performance: brand x

Brand X: Chris Clark, Scott Weinberger, Kenny Grohowski, Percy Jones and John Goodsall.

The term Brand X has long been the tag affixed to almost any form of faceless competition, a purposely inferior black sheep entity that all marketable commodities are contrasted to – favorably, one hopes.

Those qualities aren’t totally lost of the band Brand X, which was born at the height of the fusion era with a hearty enough pedigree in prog music to make it an orphan of sorts to the jazz world. It didn’t matter that the ensemble’s founding drummer was Phil Collins, who was just starting to take the reigns of Genesis in the wake of Peter Gabriel’s departure when Brand X recorded its debut album, “Unorthodox Behaviour,” in the fall of 1975. During the five year period that followed, when Brand X recorded all of its key studio albums, the band was an anomaly that earned mostly cultish followings but little lasting respect from the jazz community.

On Thursday evening at Ludlow Garage in Cincinnati, where a reconstituted Brand X made it first regional concert appearance in four decades, it was tough to determine if audiences had fully dialed into its work as the venue boasted more than a few empty seats. The band’s repertoire hasn’t been updated (no compositions post 1980 were played). Neither has its sound, which remained a proudly prog-ish offshoot of fusion. What has changed is the band’s sharpness and agility. With two founding members – guitarist John Goodsall and fretless bassist Percy Jones – manning a crew fleshed out by a trio of younger players (drummer Kenny Grohowski looked to be a full generation removed from the elders), this current Brand X lineup displayed a level of technical precision, physical drive and performance dynamics the older groups, even the ones with Collins, couldn’t match.

Credit much of that the orchestrations of keyboardist Chris Clark, the wildly rubbery sound Jones created on bass and the variety of power chords, sinewy solo lyricism and vibrant musical colors Goodsall continually added to the two set performance. Grohowski and percussionist Scott Weinberger nicely propelled the resulting ensemble sound but also teamed for a brief, boisterous percussive dialogue during the extended, suite-like “The Ghost of Mayfield Lodge.”

In terms of specifics, all of this translated into a blend of interactive playfulness and Latin-esque expression that broadly recalled the music of Chick Corea during “Disco Suicide” and the mad dashes between tropical accents and warp speed melody lines that bolstered “Not Good Enough, See Me.”

But it was during the “Unorthodox Behaviour” favorite “Born Ugly” that all of Brand X’s tricks, new and vintage, coalesced. Jones began the tune with a plump bass line that triggered a mounting funk attack. But half way through, the tune radically shifted course, allowing a recurring keyboard riff by Clark to temper the tune and frame some of Goodsall’s most patient and expressive guitar work of the evening.

Will any of this signal a wider, more generous audience in the future for Brand X? Hard to say. But it was undeniably inspiring to hear such complex, uncompromising and, quite often, uncategorizable music being played by a cross-generational band with even more ingenuity and spirit than when it was first created.




in performance: richard thompson electric trio

Richard Thompson.

Four songs into a tireless two hour Wednesday performance at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville, Richard Thompson asked a favor of the elders in the audience.

“Keep living,” the veteran British guitarist and songsmith requested. “We need your demographic to keep rolling for a few more years.”

Such a remark might suggest Thompson, 69, was viewing himself as unfashionable to the pop mainstream, which he probably is. Then again, as this astonishing performance asserted, his music’s balance of British folk tradition and vintage American rock ‘n’ roll vigor has never made for charttopping material. It has been always too alert, too human and, as often was the case Wednesday evening, too combustible for most commercial tastes.

Fronting his trio of longtime drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk with occasional rhythm guitar support from Bobby Eichorn, Thompson remained an artist of his own time during this predominantly electric outing. That meant rolling out new tunes from his “13 Rivers” album that shifted from the jittery introspection of the show-opening “Bones of Gilead” to the percussive Celtic-flavored foreboding of “The Storm Won’t Come,” which demonstrated both the efficiency of his trio and stylistic adaptability of his guitar work.

Thompson, of course, is a properly heralded instrumentalist. But on Wednesday, it wasn’t the sheer drive and drama of his playing that astounded (although the extended guitar rampage that ignited the forgotten 1988 gem “Can’t Win” rightly earned an ovation). Equally intriguing were the short electric blasts that punctuated the “13 Rivers” tune “Her Love Was Meant For Me.” Hearing Thompson dispense his performance smarts in such contained but potent outbursts was one of the program’s many delights.

Some of the songs strayed into yesteryear in ways both artful and playful, as on “Guitar Heroes” (from 2015’s “Still” album), a self-deprecating slice of fan worship that allowed Thompson to mimic such inspirational guitar forefathers as Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry and Hank Marvin. Others were rooted in a more restless sense of nostalgia, such as the jazzy and acoustic “They Tore the Hippodrome Down.” Then there were the two songs pulled from the deepest corners of Thompson’s own past – specifically, a pair of 50 year old works he penned for Fairport Convention, “Meet on the Ledge” and the impossibly obscure “Tale in Hard Time.”
The show ended with the evening’s lone cover, a rumbling reading of the 1966 Sorrows single “Take a Heart.” Despite its history as a slice of vintage Brit pop, Thompson’s reading worked as an ominous duel with Jerome, whose percussion fills proved a cunning foil for the guitarist’s varied electric adventures throughout the evening.

in performance: john hiatt

John Hiatt. Photo by David McClister.

John Hiatt’s finest music always seems to center around family – his adoration of it, his curiosity towards it and, in some cases, his unabashed escape from it.

On Tuesday night before a modest sized turnout at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati, Hiatt recounted how his first visit to his hosting city came as a teen fleeing his Indianapolis homestead to sleep in an abandoned downtown building that was “cold as (expletive).” That single-evening truancy sent him back to the family and, presumably, planted at least some of the seeds for his songs.

Though this solo acoustic performance was among Hiatt’s final tour dates promoting his 23rd studio album “The Eclipse Sessions,” the family theme resurfaced in the revival of an astonishing 1990 composition, “Seven Little Indians.” A largely autobiographical tale that outlined Hiatt’s childhood as the second youngest of seven children entertained by their storytelling father through an incantatory tale draped in Native American imagery. Spoken and recited and much as it was sung, Hiatt served the tune up as a childhood remembrance told from a decidedly adult (and subsequently parental) perspective.

The newer tunes from “The Eclipse Sessions” were perhaps less familial but no less fascinating, from the disenchanting Nashville portrait “All the Way to the River” to the plain speaking (and almost apologetic) spiritual confessional “Poor Imitation of God.” In both cases, the darker turns of the lyrics were matched by the low, often whispery tones of Hiatt’s singing.

At 66, there are mild signs of age in Hiatt’s performance profile. Aside from the more sobering nature of his songs, his voice is slightly thinner and his general persona less animated than in years past. None of that was distracting, however. In fact, age brought a sage-like demeanor to tunes like “Crossing Muddy Waters” as well as vintage fare that included “Is Anybody There?” and “Feels Like Rain.” Even the formerly whimsical rocker “Perfectly Good Guitar” took upon an air of scholarly sadness in this unaccompanied setting.

That’s not to say Hiatt didn’t get into party mode when he chose to. The evening’s most ribald entry had to be “Memphis in the Meantime,” a saga of down home decadence that has, over its three decade-plus history, always referenced a currently en vogue country artist and their unwillingness to “ever record this song.” When the song first appeared in 1987, the artist in question was Ronnie Milsap. On Tuesday, it was Blake Shelton.

The tune didn’t stray far from home, ether. It was first featured on the album that essentially broke Hiatt as a solo artist. Its title? “Bring the Family.”

in performance: bob dylan and his band

Bob Dylan.

Go away from my window; leave at your own chosen speed.”

That famous lyric, the lead off to “It Ain’t Me Babe,” comes from a staple of Bob Dylan’s catalog and performance repertoire. The song popped up No. 2 in the batting order of the master songsmith’s otherworldly sold out performance at the EKU Center for the Arts on Sunday evening, serving as – depending on your perspective – a greeting or a warning of what was to come. That’s because Dylan, 77, has long taken his songs at his own emotive, lyrical and rhythmic speed. Such asymmetry explains why some tunes sounded like crooners, other like pop carousels and more than a few like vehicles for, unfathomably, surf inspiration.

Seated at a piano for nearly the entire 1 ¾ hour concert (he quit playing guitar onstage years ago) with a functional four member band that was mostly backlit to make their music even more atmospheric, Dylan presented a set list rich with classics as well as comparatively newer works (meaning songs cut in this century). As we have come to expect from a Dylan show, every song sported drastically altered arrangements that often shifted the music’s entire rhythmic structure. “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” as a crooner? “Blowin’ in the Wind” as an encore lullaby? “When I Paint My Masterpiece” as a dizzying meditation? Those were the altered portraits Dylan put on display with varying shades of his death rattle vocals as a tour guide along with piano work that purposely blotched the musical canvases like spilt ink.

The newer works obviously intrigued Dylan more than the hits. As such, several presented some startling surprises, including an incantatory “Scarlet Town,” the first of four tunes pulled from 2012’s “Tempest” and the only complete song Dylan sang without using the piano as protective armor. Equally arresting was “Cry A While” from 2001’s “Love and Theft,” which was transformed into an electric hullabaloo of sorts thanks to guitarist Charlie Sexton’s Dick Dale-like guitar riffs (seriously, this arrangement had “Rumble” written all over it).

Also, if you were especially attentive and could make out actual words from Dylan’s corrosive singing, you could catch him toying with his own lyrics. A change I detected popped up in the set-closing “Gotta Serve Somebody” (“Maybe you’re hallucinating, you think you’ve seen a ghost”).

Curiously, it was the evening’s lone cover tune, which closed the evening, that served as the most faithful entry in the program to the song’s original incarnation. On a slow, somber version of James Brown’s immortal “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” Dylan focused his singing in a manner that approximated the clarity of his recent standards albums. Fiddler and BR549 alum Donnie Herron even provided a startling one-man take execution of the original’s potently elegant string arrangement.

How does such a song fit into one of the most socially timeless catalogues in popular music? Who’s to say? Then again, Dylan debuted the cover on Nov. 7 – the day after the election. In Georgia. For a program so thoroughly rooted in the Dylan mystique, this nightcap was a startling return to earth.

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