The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Live 1966,
The 'Royal Albert Hall' Concert
Regarding this much-ballyhooed archival release of
last year --believe the hype and then some.
those of you who've been living under a rock, this is what you get: a Dylan concert
from Manchester, not the Royal Albert Hall, as the many bootlegs of this concert
since its occurrence have erroneously claimed.
first CD is Dylan alone with his guitar and harmonica, performing songs from his,
then, past three albums -- Blonde on Blonde (1966), Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and
Bringing it All Back Home (1964). The audience responds with polite applause. After
all, this isn't quite the Dylan they want -- the songs he performs are dark, impenetrable
and private -- not leftist rallies, but it's much closer than what comes on Disc
Two. There, Dylan plays electric guitar, backed by an electric band called the Hawks,
who would mutate into The Band. The musicians tear through Dylan's songs with a raucous
passion, while the audience can be heard cat-calling and clapping in mockingly slow
unison. But Dylan and the Hawks heroically play on, undaunted. Finally, before the
final song of the evening, a blistering "Like a Rolling Stone," someone
in the audience shouts out "Judas!" "I don't believe you," Dylan
sneers, "You're a liar." Then he turns to the Hawks and says, "Play
with any important album, Live 1966 exists on two levels: musical and sociological.
Musically, the album is naturally halved again between the acoustic and electric
disks. Both are equally compelling. Disk One is a testament to the utter power Dylan
holds as a solo performer. Let less perceptive types joke about the nasal tone of
his voice; what occurs here is a master at his craft.
Here, Dylan's vocals -- even as they dart around some notes and almost strain to
attain others -- convey the enveloping mystery of the songs. With stunning warmth,
they invite the listener into the often-violently-blue moods of songs like "Fourth
Time Around," "Visions of Johanna" and "It's All Over Now, Baby
Blue." Perhaps the only comparable sound on God's earth would be Miles Davis
at his peak (right around the same time, too). Both have the same muted, understated
emotion. And whereas Miles was backed by, say, his classic Quintet or Gil Evans'
orchestra, here Dylan is accompanied merely by his own instrumental prowess.
His acoustic guitar,
strummed with something almost approaching abandon, and, especially, his chilling,
musing, often souring harmonica work, are the perfect compliment.
The music they play here, twangy guitars, wheezy Hammond organs and all, has since
been robbed of all its nuance and bite by groups like Hootie & the Blowfish and
Matchbox 20, who have turned folk-rock into campfire sing-alongs for yuppie suburbanites...
'Live 1966' arguably couldn't come at a better time, pulling this music out of cliché
and back into the fire.
Disk Two, Dylan arguably achieves that abandon, and some other things as well. Opening
with "Tell Me Momma," an unreleased song at the time, Dylan and the Hawks
lock, proving to be as viable and unerring a musical unit as any other in rock history.
The fervered rockabilly is highlighted by: Robbie Robertson's stinging riffs -- back
before he was a respected songwriter in his own right, when he was just a hotshot
guitarist from Canada, Garth Hudson's gleeful carnival organ and Mickey Jones --
who replaced Levon Helm mid-tour when Helm tired of the increasingly hostile audiences
-- infectious drum pounding. The next track "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like
We Never Have Met)" is a remake of a tune Dylan originally recorded in his solo
acoustic folkie guise. Here, he introduces it with a sly, "It used to go like
that, but now it goes like this." What results is a stinging kiss-off to an
indifferent love interest, the kind with which some ten years later Elvis Costello
and Graham Parker would set their careers alight.
Sociologically, this music is also important. Here is documented evidence of an
artist going against his audience, doing what he wants to do with his muse...this
album promotes Dylan as a new kind of rock star: cynical, ironic, wise-cracking and
more than slightly out of it.
amazing to hear this music so vital. It's like hearing Dylan classics like "Just
Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" like they're
brand new. More than that, though, the music they play here, twangy guitars, wheezy
Hammond organs and all, has since been robbed of all its nuance and bite by groups
like Hootie & the Blowfish and Matchbox 20, who have turned folk-rock into campfire
sing-alongs for yuppie suburbanites. 'Live 1966' arguably couldn't come at a better
time (though maybe it should've come out a couple years ago when Hootie were fucking
inescapable, but I'm just ranting), pulling this music out of cliché and back
into the fire.
this music is also important. Here is documented evidence of an artist going against
his audience, doing what he wants to do with his muse. The resulting collision is
what happens on Disk Two. And the germ of musical moves from Joni Mitchell finding
jazz to Pearl Jam losing grunge also happens. Even if said experiments don't entirely
succeed (or even at all), the bravery is worth noting. Also, this album promotes
Dylan as a new kind of rock star: cynical, ironic, wise-cracking and more than slightly
out of it.
British music magazine Mojo commemorated the release of Live 1966 last November with
a gorgeous, penetrating spread on the mid-'60s era Dylan and that UK tour, portraying
an artist reinventing himself and seemingly losing his mind in the process. The classic
Dylan wit is perhaps most memorably commemorated with the infamous 1966 interview
for Stockholm radio, where a disaffected Dylan lashes out on radio at journalist
Klas Burling for wanting to talk about Dylan's protest era work. Dylan introducing
a song: "...this specific one, "Rainy Day Women," happens to deal
with, er, a minority of, you know, cripples and Orientals and the world in which
they live, you realize and you understand. It's sort of a Mexican kind of thing,
very protesty, and one the most protestiest of all things I've every protested against
in the protest years."
was a rock star, preceded perhaps only by the Stones, who wasn't afraid to be a jerk.
Of course, there was something else more disturbing going on, for by now Dylan was
pretty much a junkie and a speed freak. Nobody seemed to know it back then, but looking
at some of the pictures in the lavish booklet that accompanies the CD -- pictures
where Dylan's gaunt, lantern-jawed head seems ready to crumble under the looming
afro and oversized sunglasses -- it hardly seems dubious. Perhaps that drug-induced
exhaustion creeps into the performance here, as Dylan's performance shows more frustrated
towards the audience. However, that frustration doesn't weaken his performance, it
only makes it more pointed and more powerful, so by the time "Like a Rolling
Stone" slams to a finish, there is little doubt in the listener's mind as to
how it feels.
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