Bob Dylan will always operate on a frequency that only he fully understands.
By traditional music industry measures, Dylan’s “Never Ending Tour,” which brought him to the renovated Nassau Coliseum for the first time Wednesday night, should have been awash in songs from the great American Songbook, which has occupied him for his last three albums. However, there were only five songs from that period and there were none from the gospel period captured in his new box set “Trouble No More,” released last week, though the feel of that era seemed infused in much of his show, as gospel informed much of his piano playing.
The love Dylan has for those songs is obvious, especially when he is crooning Tony Bennett’s “Once Upon a Time” and Frank Sinatra’s “The September of My Years,” both from this year’s excellent “Triplicate” album.
The well-worn creak of his voice against the gorgeous arrangement makes his delivery of songs about days gone by feel all the more poignant.
As is often the case, the 2016 Nobel Prize winner didn’t address the audience directly, letting the music speak for itself.
His opening statement? “People are crazy and times are strange,” he sings in the opener “Things Have Changed.” “I used to care, but things have changed.”
And Dylan has certainly embraced change. Some of his classics like “It Ain’t Me Babe,” which took on heft and intricate countermelodies, and “Tangled Up in Blue,” which felt like British blues from the ’70s, were almost unrecognizable. The way guitarists Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball turned “Thunder on the Mountain” into a joyous jam that showcased bassist Tony Garnier and drummer George Receli was a delight.
The method to his madness may not always be obvious, but he makes it all worthwhile.
Dylan, 76, will play five shows in six days at Beacon Theatre starting on Nov. 20.