Dylan delivers, Elvis excels at Bluesfest

Two performing legends proved they can still tell the musical stories their generations of fans want to hear last night.


Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello both delivered powerhouse shows at the Byron Bay Bluesfest proving their advancing years had in no way diminished their extraordinary abilities.


Dylan, nearing 70, and Costello, 56, have sold million of records during long, glittering careers that have seen them pass from young upstarts to icons of the music industry.

Both are now in a position to make the music they want to, regardless of whether it sells or not, or whether it is fashionable or otherwise.


Dylan rarely speaks publicly these days, while Costello interviews musicians as host of his own television show.


But last night both singer-songwriters demonstrated why live shows are the best way for them to keep their stories alive.


Bob Dylan's America is a mix of tangled loves and lovers, of small towns, cars and trains, small cafe jazz and blues, with rockabilly tossed on top as the main dressing.


The folk pioneer has always written rockabilly and early rock and roll songs, fused with the beat-poet lyrics.


Diehard Dylan fans, who had seen him play in Melbourne and Adelaide, said the Byron show was his best yet.


The performance began with the stage going black and Bob, resplendent in stylish white hat, started at the organ, pumping out a new roadtrip rockabilly piece Gonna Change My Way of Thinking before delving back to Don't Think Twice, It's Alright.


The rockabilly returned with The Levee's Gonna Break ahead of an eerie, almost spiritual version of Tangled Up in Blue.


The set list was like a car journey through America's rock and roll heartland, with several different stops and changes in direction.
The rollicking Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum opened the door to the infamous Hard Rain, delivered as a clipped sea shanty like Nick Cave's The Ship Song.


Slap bass heralded the driving Summer Days, again with Bob on organ, before the highlight of the night, a heartfelt rendering of Simple Twist of Fate, one of Dylan's most poignant songs from the Blood on the Tracks album.


Guitarist Charlie Sexton played a gorgeous repeated guitar figure, while the band played the song strongly, but sympathetically.


It was a wonderful moment, with Bob telling how two lovers "would sit together in the park", until "their eyes grew dim and the lights got dark".


It drew a massive response, before Dylan and band pushed on the rockabilly accelerator and delivered a stinging Highway 61.


A note-perfect version of Ballad of Thin Man followed, which stunned and electrified the audience.


"Something is happening, but you don't know what it is," Bob barked.
The encores were Like a Rolling Stone, where the Mojo Tent crowd bellowed the chorus in deafening volume.


Finally, Bob staked his claim and stood his ground with the declarative, gospel piece, Forever Young.


His voice is not as flexible as it was 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, but Dylan was passionate and engaged, something he hasn't always been on previous visits to Australia.


He received a massive reception before Elvis Costello walked straight on stage and immediately hit the crowd between the eyes with a surging version of Pump It Up.


Elvis never let the pressure ease, pumping out a string of hits including Watching the Detectives, Good Year for the Roses, I Don't Want to Go To Chelsea and Clubland.


The achingly-pretty Alison, morphed into his famous namesake's Suspicious Minds.


He sang some old-style country songs with the Secret Sisters, including an old Hank Williams number, before scorching through encores Oliver's Army and (What's So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding.


Mr Costello was in red-hot form and his band, which included regular members, Pete Thomas on drums and Steve Nieve on keyboards also delivered and then some.


A great show closer from one of the best songwriters of the past two decades.