It's been a strange concert year for Bob Dylan in the Boston area. In March, he downscaled to play Avalon. In August, he performed at Campanelli Stadium, a minor-league ballpark in Brockton. And on Sunday, he turned up at Harvard's Gordon athletic center, the day after the Harvard-Yale football game at the adjacent stadium.
The concert, attended by a capacity 4,000 people, was the fourth and final date of Dylan's college tour of the Northeast. It was memorable for Harvard to host Dylan (this was a private campus show with students paying $25 a ticket, though 500 tickets were made available on bobdylan.com), but it was largely an unmemorable show.
He started out well with classic hits "Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35" (with its "everybody must get stoned" chorus sung quite lustily by many students) and "Forever Young." But he then steered an unsteady course of highs and lows, with the lows coming late in the show on too many songs from his latest studio album, "Love and Theft." Many students clearly had not heard them and scurried for the exits. (Can we really stand one more version of "Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum"?)
Sound and seating issues were another drawback. The acoustics were terrible (worse than at the Gosman Center at Brandeis -- and that's saying something), and people were forced to either stand on the floor or in the especially feedback-racked balcony. The sound improved a little as the show went on, but overall, it was sludge city.
Dylan did give Harvard students something to remember with emotional renderings of "Lay Lady Lay" and "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again," but he also induced puzzled looks and frowns with twisted, reinvented versions of "Desolation Row" and "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." And he again played only electric keyboard (plus some harmonica), leaving the guitar chores to Larry Campbell and Bostonian Stu Kimball.
Dylan eased the mood some in the encore with "Like a Rolling Stone," but he mangled another, "Masters of War," almost beyond recognition, as he once did in a Grammy Awards appearance that stunned even his most diehard fans.
The bottom line: Let's hope many of these Harvard students see him again in a better setting and on a better night.
At: Harvards Gordon Indoor Track and Tennis Center, Sunday night