The magnitude of the stage at the latest House of Blues outpost — within the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas — seemed to hold Bob Dylan’s attention for a good three songs as he inaugurated the venue with a solid 80-minute show that found him smiling at the audience, twisting out dance steps and checking the ornamentation of the room. With a capacity nearly double the Sunset Strip venue, the Las Vegas House of Blues sacrifices no intimacy due to the extraordinarily wide stage that sits 5-1/2 feet up from the floor, and a second floor balcony — with seats(!) — that’s a combination of opera house, choir loft and observatory. To boot, there’s an enormous crystal chandelier that would put to shame any production of “Phantom of the Opera.”
Reasons for suspecting the venue could well become Las Vegas’ premier music hall are threefold: Sightlines exceed those of the L.A. club; the sound system not only made Dylan decipherable but the instruments nicely separated in the mix; and, as any veteran of the Hard Rock’s the Joint and the other House of Blues will tell you, the presence of permanent seating is a plus.
Dylan and his quartet brought out the best in the room’s acoustics, splitting the 14-song set 70/30 between electric and acoustic numbers. A separate show earlier in the evening with the Blues Brothers band sounded harsh and muffled in comparison, the soloing instruments often out of whack volume-wise with the rhythm section.
Known for wildly altering his set lists from night to night — and having just concluded a two-month tour of colleges — Dylan stuck to crowd-pleasers as he addressed a packed, and talkative, house of die-hard fans, locals and the comped cronies of the hotel. An encore of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” with U2’s Bono playing guitar and improvising a lyrical tribute to the rock bard, certainly caught everyone’s attention.
Dylan started the evening with robust and grinding versions of “Gotta Serve Somebody” and “Million Miles,” rounded the edges of “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe” to draw out pop textures, played the ubiquitous “Silvio” and closed the evening with a churning version of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” Curiously, Dylan turned in a credible version of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil.”