Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bob Dylan 52: Brandeis University

The Dylan diehards who’d ordered either The Witmark Demos or the pricey Original Mono Recordings box set through Amazon got a special bonus CD. With the straightforward title of In Concert – Brandeis University 1963, it was a recently discovered recording of excellent quality, so rare it hadn’t even been bootlegged before.
It consists of two short sets from a folk festival, captured just after Freewheelin’ had been finished but not yet released. At this point, Dylan had yet to be a household word; as the notes point out, neither were the Beatles, and Kennedy was still alive, for that matter. The audience is attentive, clearly mesmerized by the words of “Masters Of War” and “Ballad Of Hollis Brown” (a year away from its album appearance) as they are appreciative of the sentiment in “Bob Dylan’s Dream”.
This performance is early enough that while he was bigger than the coffeehouses, he was not yet the notorious protest provocateur. Opening with a truncated “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance”, three of the songs performed are from his repertoire of talking blues, which pack enough wry humor in to goose the audience. Clearly, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” and “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues” work better in a live format, as they were never included on a studio album. Even the gags in “Talkin’ World War III Blues” land better when punctuated by laughter.
The disc’s status as a rarity was changed the following spring when it came out as an official standalone release. Which, when you come to think of it, is a nice gesture for the average brick-and-mortar music emporium tired of getting screwed over by Amazon. Its widespread availability would suggest that it’s some kind of seminal performance for the ages, although at less than forty minutes, it rushes by comparatively quickly. But at a ten-dollar price point, with the added bonus of photos and liner notes, it gives collectors hope that it’s the start of a trend. Considering how many of Bob’s concerts over the years were professionally recorded, possibilities abound for what else could follow (like the promo-only Carnegie Hall sampler available around the time of the No Direction Home set).

Bob Dylan In Concert – Brandeis University 1963 (2011)—3

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