Friday, July 2, 2010

Bob Dylan 42: Live 1966

Live bootlegs as we now know them got their start when tapes of Bob Dylan’s controversial British tour in 1966 began circulating—particularly the one inaccurately known as the Royal Albert Hall show. For years, this concert gained notoriety both for its performance as well as the audience’s response, and Bob’s reaction therewith. In the wake of the major success of Time Out Of Mind, Dylan finally allowed its official release 32 years later as part of the dormant Bootleg Series.
Disc one consists of Bob, his harmonica, acoustic guitar and transcendent versions of seven classics, three of which would have been new to the audience. From “She Belongs To Me” through “4th Time Around” and “Visions Of Johanna”, past “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Desolation Row” to “Just Like A Woman” and a lengthy “Mr. Tambourine Man”, it’s a positively hypnotic performance. His playing never falters, and his grasp on all those words he had to remember is spot on.
Disc two is where the trouble started: he was backed here by the guys who later became the Band (featuring this guy on drums), and they played hard, mean, and loud despite the angry protests of the folk purists in the crowd. The opener, the otherwise unreleased “Tell Me, Momma”, rumbles into place amid trebly guitars, an explosive snare and wheezy organ. “I Don’t Believe You” is transformed from something of a jaunty comedy number to a near-pop song, with a prominent riff and a fantastic guitar and organ solo section. “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” is similarly kicked up a notch, as is “One Too Many Mornings”, from folk to rock. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” and “Ballad Of A Thin Man” are delivered much as you’d expect from their album versions (and that’s Bob playing piano on the latter). But it’s “Like A Rolling Stone” that gets all the attention, starting with the cry of “Judas” from the crowd, Bob’s startled reaction and the defiant performance that follows.
The sound on Live 1966 is as good as it gets, and as a historical document, the general public can finally hear what caused all the fuss and fueled an industry of mysterious records, but spurred the release of later, lackluster Dylan live albums. The dynamic of the musicians’ influence can still be experienced today, and not just in bands like the Wallflowers. (Anytime you see electric guitars with piano and organ, it all started here.) Best of all, it gave us hope that the Bootleg Series wasn’t finite.
Fifty years after the occasion, the release of what was called The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert was a nice idea, except that it was actually the first of two shows played at that venue. While good, it’s the second one, the one that closed the tour, with extended monologues between songs that drip with both contempt and pharmaceuticals, that is more “historic”. That could now be got legally, but only as part of the 36-CD The 1966 Live Recordings, which gathered every known document of the shows on that chaotic tour. The cumulative effect is akin to listening to the same album 18 times, sometimes in pristine sound, other times through a broken drive-in speaker. Whether any of these are preferable to the “Judas” show is up to the listener with the patience to compare them all. Still, some highlights of those other shows include: cough-free renditions of “Mr. Tambourine Man”, which spiral out to great lengths depending on the multi-minute harmonica breaks; variations of a long prologue to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” wherein the painter gets older each time; people actually chuckling at the lyrics of “4th Time Around”; commenting on extended tuning jags with remarks that he doesn’t have such issues with his electric guitar; and actual audience cheers of recognition, of even the electric songs. One can now track the evolving lyrics of “Tell Me, Momma”, which never approached a finished set, and hear Bob’s creeping exhaustion as the dates drag on, culminating in the introduction of the band members by name at the final Albert Hall show. And why was “Like A Rolling Stone” dedicated to the Taj Mahal, anyway?

Bob Dylan Live 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert—The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 (1998)—5
Bob Dylan
The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert (2016)—
Bob Dylan
The 1966 Live Recordings (2016)—3

4 comments:

  1. really?! mickey jones was a drummer? he wasn't just that guy that was everywhere in the 80's? and he played with dylan? my brain hurts.
    you're informative and stimulating. you're twice as good as coffee.

    dick

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  2. I read something on a different site where respected critic Robert Christgau totally writes off the acoustic side, basically says its contrived and insincere. I want to know is Christgau nuts or something. Both sets are astounding and go a long way to explain Dylan's dual, twin, gemini vibe!!

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  3. just stumbled upon this post as Sydney '66 plays on the PC. weird. these are some of my fav. Dylan recordings and are superb snapshots into Dylan as he lived and thrived during that Thin Wild Mercury era. those acoustic versions of Visions of Johanna are unreal.

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  4. I couldn't believe "I Don't Believe You" on this album was the same song found on Another Side... Just a revelation and one of the most brilliant transferences of a song from acoustic to electric I've ever heard, and the number one reason to listen to this great concert. The acoustic stuff was magnificent, too.

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