Editor's note: This article was updated on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Originally this article incorrectly credited big band leader Paul Whitman with writing "How Deep is the Ocean (How High is the Sky)," which was penned by Irving Berlin.
LENOX — Love Bob Dylan or hate him, but there is no way to deny that his shows are always entertaining, surprising and often amazing.
Such was the case at Tanglewood on Saturday night, when Dylan and his band presented to an audience of about 15,000 a stunning 20-song, two-hour set.
Opening act Mavis Staples gets, alas, only a few paragraphs. She deserves more.
Highlights of her seven-song set were a killer Staples Singers number, "I'll Take You There," and a funky cover of the Talking Heads' "Slippery People."
Dylan is touring in support of his 37th studio album, "Fallen Angels," released in May. The disc features covers written by such songwriting luminaries Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn and Harold Arlen. Eleven of the 12 songs were performed by Frank Sinatra.
So on Saturday, we got a glimpse of Dylan the crooner. Three of the songs he performed from "Fallen" — "Melancholy Mood," "Why Try To Change Me Now" and "All or Nothing at All" — were Sinatra staples. The fourth, the sublime "Autumn Leaves," was done primarily by another '60s crooner, Yves Montand.
Dylan's voice, often savaged by critics (at times justifiably), was strong and liquid on Saturday. His phrasing and pace were Sinatra-esque. His voice still has that gravelly foundation, but he hit the high notes easily. And watching him tip the mike stand and lean into these songs was a treat.
Dylan played only keyboards on a handful of tunes. Most of the time, all he had in his hands was the microphone, in the tradition of the vocal interpreters of the '40s, '50s and '60s.
The show featured tunes mostly from "Fallen Angels" and 2012's "Tempest," an album of original material that was acclaimed at the time as one of Dylan's best — a major feat given his 1960s and 1970s efforts.
Of the 20 songs on Saturday, 17 were from albums released from 2000 or later. Which means the casual Dylan fan didn't get a lot of love. There was a lovely version of "She Belongs To Me" from 1965's "Bringing It All Back Home," complete with a Dylan harp solo; a strong "Tangled Up in Blue" from 1975 and a tremendous version of "Blowing in the Wind" in the encore.
"Blowing" was an outstanding example of what Dylan does to most, if not all, of his older material. The song was reworked into a punchy rocker, with guitarist Charlie Sexton ripping a fine solo.
There also was an amazing cover of "How Deep is the Ocean, (How High is the Sky)," written by Irving Berlin and performed by, among others, Jackie Gleason and Al Hirt.
Dylan didn't play his traditional hits, but he did it his way.
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251