Tuesday was an historic night for the United States -- and for Bob Dylan.
After what had been a frustratingly erratic performance at Northrop Auditorium, America's most famous protest singer finally made a long-awaited pronouncement before his final song. After not saying a word for the preceding two hours, Dylan said something about being born in 1941 and mentioned Pearl Harbor. And then he declared, "It looks like things are going to change now."
The sold-out crowd of 4,791 fans (who were wearing more Barack Obama T-shirts than Dylan T-shirts) roared with approval as Dylan eased into "Blowin' in the Wind," his classic 1960s protest piece recast as a slow Southern stroll. "How many deaths does it take to know that too many people have died," he barked in a hopelessly croaky voice. The crowd roared. Dylan, who usually closes with the rocking "All Along the Watchtower," ended this evening with a warm, gracious answer to America's problems.
After Dylan and his band took their bows and the houselights went on at Northrop, concert-goers checked their cell phones and started screaming about the results of the presidential election. They headed outside of Northrop and began singing and dancing on the University of Minnesota campus.
Earlier, the crowd had reacted enthusiastically to anything Dylan did that was remotely political. When he got to the second chorus of "The Times, They Are A-Changin'," the response was boisterous. During "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," the line about the president of the United States having to stand naked brought a huge reaction.
Making his first appearance on the university campus since he was a student there in 1959-60, Dylan didn't make any comments about the U or his home state. Maybe if he had stayed for more than a couple of quarters at the U, he could have taken a music class that discussed how a singer should treat his/her voice. Frankly, Dylan's voice hasn't sounded this bad for so many songs in recent memory. That gravelly croak suggested too many cigarettes, too much phlegm and too little hydration.
His mumbling phrasing is challenging enough, but combine that with a parched growl that sounded like Tom Waits with laryngitis and Tuesday night turned too often into "Name That Tune."
Despite being in dubious voice, Dylan gave a fairly passionate performance. "Masters of War" was ominous. He sang the mellow "Shooting Star" like it mattered. He got into "Thunder on the Mountain," grooving with playful body language. He delivered the bluesy bluegrass scorcher "It's Alright, Ma," the night's high point, with emphatic conviction befitting this unforgettable night.
For set list and fan comments, go to www.startribune.com/poplife. Jon Bream • 612-673-1719