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06/09/99- Updated 09:33 AM ET


Two masters in time together

By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY

COLORADO SPRINGS - Bob Dylan sported an elegant black Western suit and tie. Paul Simon wore a cap, T-shirt and jeans. Both played musically against fashion type at Sunday's spectacular co-headlining show (4 stars out of four) in the World Arena, first stop on a 30-city tour.

Bob Dylan
Paul Simon
Dynamic duet: Bob Dylan, top, and Paul Simon perform career classics between their separate sets.

Simon's 15-song set list, likely to remain rigid, presents his exquisitely crafted pop gems in lock-step precision and sophisticated arrangements. Dylan's freewheeling 14-song roster, full of ragged spontaneity and daring volatility, mutates nightly. Though they share folk roots, melodic genius and a knack for inventive wordplay, their orbits rarely intersect.

The animated Dylan and his four sidemen fold rock, bluegrass, folk, country and blues into such guitar-driven workouts as the biting Masters of War, menacing Highway 61 Revisited and electrifying All Along the Watchtower. His masterful if eccentric phrasing imbues the foreboding Not Dark Yet with weathered grace, reinvigorates Mr. Tambourine Man and intensifies the drama of Tangled up in Blue. Fresh twists on his signatures, plus a swampy, rollicking Not Fade Away, underscore Dylan's resistance to rust and routine.

Likewise, Simon's effervescent vocals and broad musical vocabulary accentuate the sturdiness of his compositions, gloriously executed by his polyrhythmic, culture-hopping 11-piece band. The elaborate interplay of horns, strings and percussion proves dazzling on The Coast, yet the spare Slip Slidin' Away and languid Mrs. Robinson are equally appealing. Alternately playful and wistful, Simon reclaims Bridge Over Troubled Water (the bold opener), revives sublime Graceland hits and redeems The Capeman in a seriocomic yarn, Trailways Bus.

While the rhythms of these pop saints seem out of sync, the odd couple is oddly compelling, especially in four poignant duets wedged between separate 90-minute sets, a star summit that transcends gimmickry with heartfelt delivery and double-or-nothing bravado.

Flanked by players from both bands, Dylan and Simon gamely joined voices in their second public partnership (after a debut the night before in a Denver club). The boomer icons cautiously tackled Sounds of Silence, reshaped by a country lilt and deliberate pace. Their tentative stance faded on a brawny medley of I Walk the Line/Blue Moon of Kentucky and a moving rendition of Forever Young (replaced the next night by a splendid Knockin' on Heaven's Door).

What could have been a clash of titans, or at least a train wreck of styles, emerged as a sweet and vulnerable musical encounter. Amid the awkward entwining of Simon's pristine warble and Dylan's gritty whine, they reignited each song's emotional core.

Though tangled up in opening-night miscues, the pairing is an intriguing highlight that's sure to sharpen. The tour is young. And the songs, after all, are forever young.

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