If you were at the Petersen Events Center for the past two Bob Dylan shows, you might be wondering what it would take to drag you back into one of his concerts.
Those shows were among the worst he's done here, with the energy level down and the croak in his voice up considerably.
But let's not give in to despair.
If you're holding a ticket to see pop's Shakespeare Saturday show at the Cal U Convocation Center or you're thinking of jumping on board late, there are reasons for hope.
For starters, we all dream of seeing him back in a proper 3,000-seat theater, but that's not happening, partly because of his popularity with the college crowd. However, at 6,000 capacity, the venue is half the size of the Petersen, so we're moving in the right direction.
Second, it may be my personal theory, but Dylan seems to thrive in these more remote settings. I've seen him more than 20 times, starting in 1980, and still consider Conneaut Lake Park 1992 to be the most magical. (If only he'd gone beyond the Christian material at those three Stanley shows!) Likewise, the show at Consol Energy Park near Washington, Pa., with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp in 2009 was far better than the American Eagle South Side parking lot gig in 2008.
The venue isn't the only reason for optimism. Dylan will be only seven dates into a tour that started in Buffalo, N.Y., on Friday, so his pipes should be relatively fresh, and "Things Have Changed" hasn't been his opener for nothing.
There's a new ax man in town, as Duke Robillard, of Roomful of Blues, has replaced Charlie Sexton, injecting some new life into the proceedings while tightening the set list.
He also has a fine new album that he's actually acknowledging, which is good because no one wins in a nostalgia show. Dylan's been playing four songs from last year's "Tempest," a lyrically scathing 35th album that finished high on year-end lists (No. 4 on Rolling Stone, No. 16 on Pazz and Jop poll), a remarkable achievement for an artist at 71.
The informed fan reviews at boblinks.com are raving about the live version of the new "Scarlet Town," the emotional "What Good Am I?" from "Oh, Mercy" and his take on the "Blonde on Blonde" masterpiece "Vision of Johanna," one of only three songs in the set from the '60s.
As for his stage presence, a boblinks poster wrote: "He simply looked fantastic, rested, comfortable and smiling for the whole night. ... Bob was an energetic presence all night, if not a full out, engaging front man."
The best vocal harmonies of the night will come from the opening act Dawes, a young LA quartet that evokes the Dylan-inspired but smoother Laurel Canyon folk-rock sound of the '70s. The band, leaning more toward the Jackson Browne side of things, just released its third album, "Stories Don't End," this week and is blown away to be on the same stage as Dylan.
"We've crossed paths with so many heroes of ours -- Jackson Browne, John Fogerty, Conor Oberst -- but we never thought Bob Dylan would be in the cards," frontman Taylor Goldsmith told Rolling Stone. "We might not even get to meet him, but that's OK. I'm just honored to share the stage with him."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. First Published April 11, 2013 4:00 AM