Recorded: May 17, 1966
Released: October 3, 1998
Let’s just start by saying that if for some reason you haven’t listened to this, stop reading, and go do it now. And even if you feel like you know it well, it still wouldn’t hurt to give it a listen and try to hear it with fresh ears. Oh, just to be clear, this concert was at Manchester, not the Royal Albert Hall, but because it had been bootlegged as the “Royal Albert Hall concert”, they kept that in the title of the official release (besides, “Royal Albert Hall” sounds so much cooler).
There’s been so much written about this concert and tour that I can’t conceive of saying anything new. It’s an astounding performance by someone who’s about to turn 25 years old, has already written a boatload of stunning, unprecedented songs, been called the “Voice of a Generation”, raised various controversies, and created a new sound to bring into the world what he’s hearing in his mind.
A few observations: on the acoustic songs, he sounds so weary, strung out, and yet warm. Sometimes tender, sometimes mocking, and are we sure of the difference? (And who’s he mocking?) I remember reading a quote that he wasn’t just burning the candle at both ends, but taking a blow torch to the middle, and you can tell. Another thing that struck me: he introduced “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” by saying “It used to be like that, now it goes to this”…. He now owns his songs, and performs them as he feels them: most of the songs he performs acoustic had electric backing on the studio albums, and three of the songs he performs with the Group (see Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan: The 1966 Live Recordings Album Review | Pitchfork) were acoustic on the studio recordings. That doesn’t matter. He commands the songs and brings them to you here as he understands them at the time. And finally, why would anyone have bought tickets to this concert, knowing Dylan’s going to rock out, and then boo him for… rocking out?
I’m not going to talk about every performance, as they’re all great (again: whole books about this concert!). Most performances are quite different from the studio versions, not better or worse, just equally great, although I would choose the performances of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “I Don’t Believe You” over the studio versions. And “One Too Many Mornings” is utterly transformed into an electric majestic storm.
And then there’s “Like A Rolling Stone”: the “Judas” shout from the audience, Dylan’s “I don’t believe you… you’re a LIAR”, followed by his aside to the band “Play fuckin’ loud”. This is a common take, but this is probably the single greatest moment in rock history… because of course Dylan and the band follow this with a bringing-down-the-walls-of-the-temple performance of “Like A Rolling Stone”. This is Babe Ruth calling his shot: ‘Williams’ summary of the story included, “In the fifth, with the Cubs riding him unmercifully from the bench, Ruth pointed to center and punched a screaming liner to a spot where no ball had been hit before.”’
I pointed before to the Pitchfork article about the insane 36 disk box that contains all of Dylan’s 1966 live recordings. It has so many choice quotes that apply to this concert, so I’m just going to end by including a few of them:
- “Dylan is luminous and fragile-sounding during his opening solo acoustic sets, and equally fierce and possessed during the electric second halves, backed by the quintet that would soon become the Band, who match him in super-charged vitality.”
- “Containing the notorious back-and-forth in which an audience member calls Dylan “Judas!” and Dylan snarls back, “I don’t be-lieve you, you’re a liar” (and to the musicians “play fuckin’ loud”)…”
- “One takeaway, though, and perhaps the perpetual Dylan hot take, is that the dude actually is an amazing singer, lingering sensuously on every syllable during the quiet acoustic sets and occupying every bit of smarter-than-thou word-play and put-downs when the electric guitars come out.”
- This is me, again, and Oh My God yes, this is amazing singing.
- “Speaking almost entirely in parables in interviews and press conferences, the Bob Dylan that stood in front of audiences in 1966 had an unearthly air, a beautiful and vibrating young alien. “Bob Dylan got very sick backstage and I’m here to take his place,” he announces in Glasgow…”
- “It would be the last time Dylan regularly performed extended solo acoustic sets, and it is a form he has mastered.”