Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bob Dylan - The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert (Sony Legacy, 2016)

1966 was an amazing yet trying time for Bob Dylan. He was at the height of his powers, releasing one groundbreaking LP after another, but exhaustion was setting in. On the boxed set that this two cd set is taken from you can see that he was on a grueling tour from Australia to Europe, and was facing dissent at every turn from longtime fans who felt that he had sold out his values as as a singer of acoustic  protest songs to embrace heathen rock ‘n’ roll. This led to the famous “Judas!” catcall at the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert and even in cosmopolitan London he had to confront a rowdy crowd who didn’t understand that he was a rock ‘n’ roller from the beginning, even expressing a desire to join Little Richard’s band as a teenager in the 1950’s. Regardless, this is a fine show and seems to be a good representative sample of the music that Dylan and the musicians that would soon become The Band were playing on this tour. The first half of the concert and the first disc of the set is made up of a very well received acoustic set with Dylan solo on guitar, harmonica and vocals. This was Dylan in troubador mode and was a favorite of longtime fans, and while his protest songs of the past are absent, the crowd cannot help to be impressed by the sheer wordplay of Dylan narratives like “Visions of Johanna,” “Mr. Tamborine Man” and “Desolation Row” which pile verse upon verse in a poetic fantasia of song, something which had no precedent in popular music at the time. After an intermission, disc two contains the electric set, and while the sound quality is not as good as the previous set, it still captures Dylan now on electric guitar, piano, harmonica and vocals with Rick Danko on bass and backing vocals, Mickey Jones replacing Levon Helm on drums, Robbie Robertson on guitar, Richard Manuel on piano and Garth Hudson on organ. The music they make is rough, raw and very exciting. “Tell Me Mama” and “I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” wave their electric banner proudly, and Dylan bellows from deep down, sounding hoarse but unbowed. The folkie crowd no doubt had a conniption over the electrified remake of “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and he starts to lose part of the crowd at this point, finally having to plead “They’re all protest songs, now c’mon!” But he’s an old pro at this point and the band rallies for a bluesy “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” and an ominous piano fueled “Ballad of a Thin Man,” before barrelling to an excellent conclusion with a powerful rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone.” This was a fine concert, and makes for a more economical purchase than the entire boxed set, particularly if you already own The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 which has the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert on it. Play this for any doubters about Bob Dylan’s eligibility for the Nobel Prize, if it doesn’t change their mind than nothing will. The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert - amazon.com

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