There are many reasons to celebrate Charlie Sexton's return to Bob Dylan's live band, but the biggest one might be that Sexton's presence frees up Dylan to peel off terrifically cranky lead lines on a guitar that sounds like it's been strung with straightened-out wire hangers. Kicking off a three-night stand at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles last night, Dylan spent a good deal of his two-hour set tangling with the Austin blues-rock whiz, who this fall is playing guitar with the legendary singer-songwriter for the first time since 2002. In "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" they scrabbled for supremacy like two barnyard chickens; later, during an appropriately driving "Highway 61 Revisited," Sexton dropped to his knees for a thrilling solo while Dylan jabbed out creep-show organ licks.
All night, Sexton occupied the center-stage spot, which he took advantage of by whipping around like Marty McFly at the end of Back to the Future. Not that Dylan, peering out from underneath his black gaucho hat, wasn't worth watching, too; before he finished "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" he started bopping up and down behind his keyboard, leaning into the juicy rolling-thunder beat.
The band's default mode Tuesday was a salty brand of electric blues, but Dylan and Sexton kept leading the musicians on tasty little detours: "Cold Irons Bound" rode a hard proto-funk groove; "Like a Rolling Stone" had a bright, Byrds-like jangle; "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," from this year's Together Through Life, was a border-town-cantina shuffle with pedal-steel dude Donnie Herron on sweet-and-sour trumpet. For "Nettie Moore" they took everything down to a creepy café-music murmur, over which Dylan did his best Leonard Cohen sprechstimme.
Dylan closed the show the same way he did the several that preceded this one, with a stormy, hard-rocking "All Along the Watchtower." As Sexton slashed his way through the tune, the guitarist's old pal appeared totally satisfied with his new hire.
"Gonna Change My Way of Thinking"
"Beyond Here Lies Nothin'"
"Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
"Cold Irons Bound"
"Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)"
"My Wife's Home Town"
"Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again"
"High Water (for Charlie Patton)"
"I Feel a Change Comin' On"
"Highway 61 Revisited"
"Thunder on the Mountain"
"Ballad of a Thin Man"
"Like a Rolling Stone"
"All Along the Watchtower"