- She Belongs To Me
- Fourth Time Around
- Visions Of Johanna
- It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
- Desolation Row
- Just Like A Woman
- Mr. Tambourine Man
- Tell Me, Momma
- I Don't Believe You
(She Acts Like We Never Have Met)
- Baby, Let Me Follow You Down
- Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
- Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
- One Too Many Mornings
- Ballad Of A Thin Man
- Like A Rolling Stone
Bob Dylan: Vocals/ Guitar/ Harmonica - Piano on 14
Robbie Robertson: Guitar
Rick Danko: Bass - Additional vocal on 13
Garth Hudson: Organ
Richard Manuel: Piano
Mickey Jones: Drums
European Tour 1966
Recorded at The Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England - 17th May 1966
"I was trying to make the two things [folk music and rock and roll] go together when I was on those concerts. I played the first half acoustically, second half with a band, somehow thinking it was going to be two kinds of music." Bob Dylan 1968.
What can one say about perfection, because that is exactly what we have here, a live album by an artist at the absolute peak of his craft and one that Dylan fans had to wait more than thirty years to hear officially and in its entirety. Various bootleg copies of all or part of this concert had been circulating among collectors for some time but they had only helped to fuel the myth that surrounded this historic event.
For those who are not aware of the facts (I cannot imagine who such a person might be) here they are in a nutshell. In the early and mid-sixties Bob Dylan was the darling of the folk movement and they claimed him jealously as their own. His early acoustic albums were full of socially and politically aware songs and Dylan himself was appearing at various political rallies and was no stranger to the civil rights movement. Pete Seeger (a man who ate, drank and slept folk music) had invited Dylan to play at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival in both 1963 and 1964, and Joan Baez the young queen of folk music was featuring in Dylan's life both personally and professionally. But Dylan was becoming bored with the restrictions of the folk movement and the fact that he was looking for a more challenging and musically stimulating expression was becoming evident in his recordings. Consequently it was a very different Bob Dylan that took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival of July 1965. Backed by Paul Butterfield and his blues band, Dylan played an electric set (in more ways than one) of three songs, two of which "Like A Rolling Stone" and "It Takes A lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" were from his soon to be released "Highway 61 Revisited" album. The third song "Maggie's Farm" was already in the public domain as a track on "Bringing It All Back Home" Dylan's most recently released album. Whether the crowd reaction was due to Dylan's use of electric instruments or to the fact that the instruments were so loud and the sound so distorted as to drown the vocals remains a moot point, but what is not in doubt is that he was practically booed from the stage. Seeger was furious, and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary gave Dylan an acoustic guitar and persuaded him to return to the stage. According to some reports, it was a tearful Dylan that returned to perform two acoustic numbers, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man," and four days later went into Columbia's New York studios and recorded "Positively 4th Street" one of his most bitter songs.*
Dylan refused to budge from his chosen musical path and played several concerts at major venues (notably Forest Hills, The Hollywood Bowl and Carnegie Hall) throughout the latter half of 1965 accompanied by various members of the group that was soon to be associated with him, The Hawks, who subsequently changed their name to The Band. A pattern was beginning to emerge in these concerts where Dylan would play an entirely acoustic set at which the audience would politely applaud after each song, and then an electric set which was usually greeted with more hostility. This pattern was maintained throughout the upcoming 1966 world tour, where the backing group was now established. Robbie Robertson on lead guitar, Rick Danko on bass guitar, Garth Hudson on organ, Richard Manuel on piano and Levon Helm on drums.
The tour began in February 1966 and included the United States and Canada, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom and France before ending with two nights at London's Royal Albert Hall at the end of May. The shape of the concerts varied little, as did the audience reaction to it. This may seem a little extreme by today's standards, but one has to remember that most of these people had seen Dylan only a year before, but the performances that they were witnessing now were light years away from that. Robbie Robertson, no stranger to hostile audiences himself, called it a strange way to make a living "You get in this private plane, they fly you to a town, we go to this place, we play our music and the people boo us. Then we get back on the plane, we go to another town, we play our music and they boo us." he said with more than a touch of humour. Band members were affected differently by this, "...they didn't seem to be throwing anything dangerous" observed Garth Hudson wryly, but Levon Helm left the tour in November, unable to take the abuse anymore. Helm was replaced by Mickey Jones (after a brief stint by Sandy Konikoff) but remained generous in his opinion of Dylan and his motives "And I like Bob's policy;" he told Howard Sounes "...if you bought a ticket, you should be allowed to boo. If you don't like it, voice your opinion. But, goddammit, it's a hard one to take."
By the time this travelling circus reached the UK, where there had always been the intention of recording a live album (probably at The Albert Hall), Dylan was showing signs of strain. His mood was dark, he wasn't sleeping or eating and seems to have been existing on a diet of alcohol, nicotine, amphetamines and pure adrenaline "We were taking a lot of chemicals which doctors had prescribed for entertainers and athletes" he said in 1978, but D.A. Pennebaker, who was filming the tour for a documentary, was convinced that Dylan and Robertson were into much heavier stuff, but felt that the acoustic sets were taking second place to the electric ones "But in general, he was having a much better time with the band than he was by himself and you could see right away that the difference was night and day in terms of his performance..." he said.
The audience at Manchester's Free Trade Hall on May 17th knew what to expect, the negative aspects of the concerts were being well documented by the press, catcalls, abuse, walkouts and even a bomb threat in Sheffield (though probably a crank rather than a folk music purist) and the silence during the solo acoustic section is strangely eerie. Dylan opens with "She Belongs To Me" and plays what is by now a well established set to polite applause after each song. This, the first half of the album, shows Dylan as a consummate professional and if he is fed up with playing this type of music there is no evidence of it here. He sings and plays as if he is in a trance, and the version of "Visions Of Johanna" is absolutely beautiful, but he has no rapport with the audience at all and he ends the set with the song that is rapidly becoming a crowd favourite, "Mr. Tambourine Man."
When you listen to the second half of the concert, it is difficult to believe that you are in the same venue on the same night. Dylan takes the stage backed by The Hawks and after a brief tune up they tear into "Tell Me Momma" and everything that the audience had been expecting (and possibly dreading) was happening. Dylan had been using this song to open the second half of the show for some time, and (typical of his perversity in such matters) with it's oblique references and impenetrable lyrics, it would have been almost unknown to most of the audience. Dylan is in great voice here, and the Hawks' playing is powerful but perfectly controlled. The song is well received, and Dylan introduces the second number "This is called "I Don't Believe You". It used to be like that, and now it goes like this." he drawls after playing a few bars on the harmonica, and the Hawks join in with a sound that Paul Cable described as "...tipping a whole table of crockery and cutlery into a sink all at once" and it's incredible to think that this song was written for an acoustic guitar. The first mutterings of dissent can be heard just before "Baby Let Me Follow You Down," a song that brings Robbie Robertson's lead guitar and Mickey Jones's power drumming to the fore, and the version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" with Garth Hudson's majestic, haunting organ work so compelling that it is one of the high points of the album. There is more taunting of the audience with the introduction of "Brand New Leopard-Skin Pill Box Hat " (never a personal favourite) as Dylan seems intent on getting a response out of the audience, and it has to be said that this version is streets ahead of the album version.
It is just before "One Too Many Mornings" that a small but vociferous section of the audience tries to make its presence felt with catcalls and slow handclaps. Dylan responds by employing the ingenious device (not for the first time) of muttering incomprehensible nonsense into the microphone until he has their attention and then says, with a trace of irony "If you only just wouldn't clap so hard" which of course draws huge applause. This tender and gentle love song is transformed (successfully) into a searingly bitter rock number as Dylan's world weary lyrics take on a new meaning and the song comes into its own. This is followed by a powerful "Ballad Of A Thin Man" with Dylan taking Richard Manual's place at the piano and if ever a song fitted an occasion, then surely this was it, Dylan's acerbic put down of all things un-hip aimed at all the Mr. Joneses in the audience. The defining moment of course comes just before the final song with the cry of "Judas!" now known to be a certain Keith Butler, a student at Keele University who was apparently so incensed at what he saw as Dylan's betrayal that he felt compelled to voice his opinion. Dylan's response was not immediate and his pause might suggest that he was not answering Butler but someone else in the audience (other people were shouting, but none of it is discernible) but eventually he responds with the words "I don't believe you. You're a LIAR" and turning to the band he tells them to "Play f*****g loud!!!" and they rip into "Like A Rolling Stone." Butler left the theatre pausing only to tell Pennebaker's film crew "Any pop group can do this rubbish. It was a bloody disgrace...He wants shooting." (Butler sadly passed away in Canada in October 2002, but he has become part of rock music folklore). Dylan for his part performs the final, climactic song like a man possessed and The Hawks are with him all the way, but suddenly it is all over, and after a quick "thank-you" he is gone, leaving a stunned audience behind.
The tour moved to France where Dylan played in Paris on May 24th (his twenty-fifth birthday) and back to England for the two final concerts at the Royal Albert Hall on May 26th and 27th where some people still feel that the last two tracks of this album come from. This is highly unlikely, and "Live 1966 The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert" remains a remarkable chronicle of a remarkable evening, where Dylan proved that he could wear two hats with equally superb results. It was released in 1998 as the second in a set of official bootlegs (the first having been 1991's excellent "Bootlegs Vols 1-3") that set a standard in quality that continues to be matched in subsequent bootleg releases.
*This song did not make the "Highway 61 Revisited" album, but was released as a single a month later.