Thanks to Danica from Living a Beautiful Life for including me in this group post, and to Bruce from Vinyl Connection for the artwork.
This is the actual concert from Royal Albert Hall in 1966. For decades, there was a bootleg floating around that was in actuality a recording of the performance at Manchester Free Trade Hall on May 17, 1966. I’m not sure why there was a mix up of the shows. Perhaps the bootlegger mixed the tapes up, or perhaps the Royal Albert Hall was more famous.
This recording was during a transition period for Dylan. He wanted to branch out in his music, and his fans were having none of it. Near riots were caused because Dylan actually wanted to play songs in the way that moved him. Can you imagine? A musical artist not doing exactly what his fans wanted. The shame.
Dylan invited members of The Hawks (later The Band) out on this tour and the majority of his fans were upset. They wanted Dylan to stick to his acoustic folk leanings. They didn’t want amplified Dylan songs. Here are 2 of many quotes from newspapers of the time. ” “Turn the drummer off!”, shouted a voice from the gallery, and about 9,000 of us in the Albert Hall agreed. To those that once admired Bob Dylan, for his apocalyptic imagery, his black humour and the flinty individuality of his music, it is disappointment enough that he now uses an R & B group to give his working a backing it doesn’t need.” The other paper reads ” “This is my last visit here.” said an angry Bob Dylan at his final British concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Friday. Sadly, some of the audience didn’t seem to care. They hooted, barracked, and stalked out in protest when, after the interval, Bob appeared with his electrified backing group, Dylan’s excursion into rock-n-roll angered them. They wanted the pure guitar-accompanied folk singing of the first half.”
This 2 LP set has his acoustic folk songs on the first platter, and the electrified portion with the so-called R & B group, The Band (all but Garth Hudson, who had left the tour earlier due to stress). They weren’t officially known as The Band yet, they were The Hawks, as they were previously the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins.
The first album in this gatefold is a wonderful example of the live music fans would have enjoyed up until this point in his career. The arrangements changed a little, but we hear Dylan in his prime. Just his guitar, harmonica and wonderful voice. Unlike most of my previous reviews, I did not go into detail about these songs. Suffice to say they are all awesome.
The first thing I noticed about the second disc is that the label is blue. The first disc label is red. Right away you know there is going to be a difference between the two. Start the record and the crowd cheers and the music is a little sedate for a short while and then…bam. The volume level goes up 10 fold.
Tell Me, Momma – A song that introduced the world to the electrified Dylan. It was never recorded on an album, and only ever played on this particular tour.
I Don’t Believe You – Dylan introduces this as an “old” song even though it was only released 2 years before. He says “It used to be played like that, but now it’s played like this. The times they are a-changin’ .” This may have both been in reference to the album title and to the newer, rockin’ way this is played here.
Baby, Let me Follow You Down – The traditional song was first done by Dylan on his eponymous album from 1962. Dylan also performed this song at The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz.
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – We hear the audience yelling “What happened to Woodie Guthrie Bob?”, quite possibly to play more folk songs. He answers “These are all protest songs, now come on. It’s not British music, it’s American music, now come on.” I can only assume Bob felt the audience was protesting him playing this style, and he reminded him his songs are all protest songs. The original version from Highway 61 Revisited took 16 takes to get it right. This one was perfect with one take.
Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat – The audience yells at Bob. He tells them the “Shh”. They continue to yell, and he says “Come on up here and say that.” This is the first song of the night from the just released Blonde On Blonde.
Of note for me was the fact that at the end of side c, the needle stuck in the runout groove and did not stop play as it should on my turntable. This has only happened on one other record of mine, and I can only assume it is a defect in the pressing. This is a minor inconvenience, but one I would not have expected.
One Too Many Mornings – Not the usual finger-picked version. Also, this one has some cool background vocals from The Hawks.
Ballad of a Thin Man – A few boos from the audience start this song off. The song was written as a protest to the media people of the day. It also has many references which may be about outing a homosexual in the lyrics. This song is described by Al Kooper (who played on the original version) as being “musically more sophisticated than anything else on the Highway 61 Revisited album.” Kooper also recalled that at the end of the song, (original) drummer Bobby Gregg said “This is a nasty song, Bob.” Kooper adds “Dylan was King Of The Nasty Song at that time.” All I know, is this live version is amazing.
Like a Rolling Stone – Dylan starts this one off by saying “We’d like to dedicate this one to the Taj Mahal.” I have no idea what he was on about. The original version was written after Dylan got back from an exhaustive British tour in 1965. He was considering quitting the music industry, and he used his frustrations to write this song. It was heavier than any previous Dylan song, and the record company balked at both the length and the harder edge. It was only after a promo copy had been heard by influential dj’s that it was released as a single. Thankfully this song became Dylan’s highest charting single, and a staple in his live shows. It closes the concert out, as it usually did on this tour, and ends this album on a high note.
In my opinion, this album is a must for even a casual Dylan fan. It comes in both 2LP and 2 cd versions. If you are a completest, you can buy the 36 disc version called The 1966 Live Recordings. That set features all of the live shows on his tour, but vary in terms of sound quality since many are audience recordings, and with 36 discs of mostly the same setlists, it will get repetitive. But for the 99% of us that like/love Dylan, this one is just perfect.