On the opening night of his 2010 American tour, Bob Dylan treated 3,000-plus rowdy Texans to an energetic, focused set that featured some of his strongest vocals in years — most impressively on a delicate run through "Tryin' to Get to Heaven." As the sky turned pink at dusk, Dylan came out in his toreador-meets-Civil War stage suit and delivered a set that mixed his most enduring 1960s songs ("Lay Lady Lay," "Like a Rolling Stone") and tracks from the past 15 years ("Thunder on the Mountain," "Can't Wait"). Unfortunately, Dylan hasn't totally given up the synth organ he's played since 2002, but he also spent half the night either strumming an acoustic or gripping the mic and prowling the stage Frank Sinatra-style.
Very few guest performers grace Dylan's stage these days, but Neville Brothers keyboardist Ivan Neville joined the band on the organ for haunting versions of "Can't Wait" and "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'," infusing the latter with a gospel-like heft.
The show picked up speed at the halfway mark with a blazing version of Time Out of Mind's "Cold Irons Bound" — all thunderous drums and razor-wire harmonica — and never slowed down. It peaked with a stunning "Ballad of a Thin Man," featuring Dylan spitting the bile-filled lyrics with vigor as the group milked the stop-start riffs and dynamic shifts for maximum drama. Lead guitarist Charlie Sexton's biting, fluid solos and forceful rhythm playing clearly energized Dylan. Sexton returned to the band late last year — and the Never Ending Tour hasn't sounded this hot since he left in 2002.
This is a story from the September 2nd, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.