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Bob Dylan's first Austin show in 7 years is almost entirely different from the last one

If you came to Bass Concert Hall on Wednesday seeking a Bob Dylan show that was different from when he played this same venue seven years ago, you got your wish.

Change in band members? Check. Only longtime bassist Tony Garnier and multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron returned. Drummer Charley Drayton joined guitarists Bob Britt (who joined the lineup in 2019) and Doug Lancio as newcomers, with Austin guitarist Charlie Sexton among the departed.

Dylan's own performance? Different as well. Though he'd already stopped playing guitar by the time he came through Austin in May 2015, he spent some of the time out front singing. This time he was behind the piano for every song. He shuffled out front for a few seconds several times during the show to acknowledge the crowd, which greeted him with a standing ovation each time.

Bob Dylan, seen here in an undated file photo, was back in Austin for a Wednesday night show at Bass Concert Hall.

Most telling, though, is the number of songs from the 2015 set that were repeated on this night: zero. A fair bit of change was to be expected: Dylan has been giving his 2020 album "Rough and Rowdy Ways" a deep airing on this tour, playing nearly all of its songs. (Only the 17-minute epic "Murder Most Foul," which was released as a stand-alone single and served more as a bonus track to physical versions of the album, was left out.)

But none of the other eight songs in the set were played at the 2015 show. In place of classics such as "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Simple Twist of Fate," we got different classics, such as "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" and "Every Grain of Sand." 

From the archives:Our review of Bob Dylan's 2015 Austin concert

That's the thing about Dylan's catalog: There's so much to draw from, it's easy for him to change things up a lot from tour to tour, if he's so inclined. He's distinctly different from almost all popular music performers who tend to have signature songs they must play at almost every show. Yes, Dylan wrote "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Blowin' in the Wind" — but his fans know better than to expect them every time around.

Bob Dylan at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2007.

That said, the set lists for the "Rough and Rowdy Ways" tour dates, which began last fall, have been remarkably consistent. Dylan played the exact same set in Austin that he'd played at San Antonio's Majestic Theatre on Sunday and Monday. He seems to have found a sequence and groove he likes for the moment, and he's sticking with it.

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At 80, Dylan moves gingerly these days, but his singing seems to have gotten stronger over the past decade. Like his living-legend counterpart Willie Nelson, Dylan spent some time in the past decade revisiting songs that Frank Sinatra made famous, and that may have helped reshape his vocal approach. The band often holds back a bit as well, to help Dylan's voice stay out front.

Most of the material was delivered with a midtempo country-blues feel. Herron, on a small riser at stage left, colored songs with accents of pedal steel, fiddle and guitar. Drayton, on a similar riser at stage right, seemed a terrific new recruit for this lineup, with lively and versatile drumming that often pushed the material more toward the jazz realm.

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Garnier stuck mostly to upright bass (sometimes plucked, sometimes bowed), switching to electric for a couple of more upbeat numbers — most notably "Gotta Serve Somebody," the most rocking tune of the night and a clear highlight. Lancio was mostly hidden from the crowd by Dylan's upright piano, but he seemed largely to be filling in the atmospherics that had been a big part of Sexton's playing, while Britt had a more rhythmic role on electric and acoustic guitar.

Dylan said not a word to the crowd until capping the new album's material with "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" about 90 minutes into the set. He graciously introduced his bandmates and offered a simple "Well, thanks everybody." An exquisite "Every Grain of Sand" followed, after which Dylan stood briefly with one hand on his hip for one last gaze upon the crowd. And, unlike 2015 once again, there was no encore.

Bob Dylan in Austin Set List:

1. Watching the River Flow

2. Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine

3. I Contain Multitudes

4. False Prophet

5. When I Paint My Masterpiece

6. Black Rider

7. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

8. My Own Version of You

9. Crossing the Rubicon

10. To Be Alone With You

11. Key West (Philosopher Pirate)

12. Gotta Serve Somebody

13. I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You

14. Melancholy Mood

15. Mother of Muses

16. Goodbye Jimmy Reed

17. Every Grain of Sand