Whether Bob Dylan's rumoured consideration for the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature last week was ever actual or just a canny piece of viral marketing on the eve of his latest UK tour will probably never become clear. Certainly Dylan himself never mentioned it during this first date, although in all fairness he didn't say much of anything at all.
The most devout of his fans, judging by their reverent reaction, attend not to sing along to the greatest hits but rather to be in his orbit, to enjoy the experience of witnessing another footnote in the biography of a creative force who has loomed over the last half-century in a manner almost unlike any other. Even support act Mark Knopfler, playing a rootsy set of flute'n'fiddle folk that might well have been honed for this gig given his rustic new version of "Brothers in Arms", referred to Dylan as "Mr Bob" when thanking him for the opportunity.
It was a credit, then, that Dylan appears to have no truck with solemnity as far as his own catalogue is concerned. Backed by a quintet in matching silver suits and playing the piano at first, Dylan began with the breezy, almost 1950s rock'n'roll boogie of "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat".
Perhaps only those fans with a truly devotional attitude might have recognised the next song straight off, however, for "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" was subtly transformed into a barroom blues thump under the Hammond whine and Dylan's snapped out, highly stylised vocal.
Many of these songs have been repurposed and reinterpreted in such a manner, presumably not through devilment but through Dylan's quite understandable need to not feel fixed into place by the setting of half a century's stone. The ragged, barked "I used to care/ but things have changed" chorus of "Things Have Changed", Dylan's voice reasserting itself as the father of Ronnie Hawkins and Tom Waits, seemed delightfully misleading, with "Tangled Up in Blue" literally whooped out in a defiant reappropriation of the song.
The driving "Honest with Me" saw Dylan out from behind the piano, whipping his mic cable, feet apart and knees crooked as if he were riding a stallion across the rim of the Grand Canyon, an unexpectedly physical performance from a man who celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year.
Then there were slow waltz timings for "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" and "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", a slice of Cajun boogie-woogie in "Summer Days", some more driving barroom rock in "Highway 61 Revisited".