Sound: In the month of May, 1966, Bob Dylan returns to the English stage to perform the second half of his set. The first half was well received by the audience, despite the omission of any song carrying politically motivated lyrics, with Dylan performing an acoustic set of songs from Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home. This second half saw Dylan backed by a 5-piece band, The Hawks, performing an electric set that will go down in history as one of the greatest moments in rock. Plagued by heckling and catcalls from the audience, who felt betrayed by Dylan's decision to 'go electric', Dylan soldiers through, performing the set with an air of contempt and aggression towards the audience. Until finally just before the last song, Like a Rolling Stone, an audience member yells out the word, "Judas!" followed by the call from one audience member, "I'm never listening to you again, ever!" to which Dylan replies, "I don't believe you, you're a liar, before turning to his band, and just within earshot of the microphone, snarls "Play f--king loud!"
The performance then rolls on with spite and such emotion rarely captured on tape.
In the end the crowd has changed, enchanted by the performance they have witnessed. As the final bars of 'Like a Rolling Stone' ring out the crowd erupt into cheers and applause. Dylan replies with a quick thankyou and exits the stage. The crowd are now eerily silent. Something has indeed just happened...
Released in 1998, the first official recording of Dylan's concert was well received, altough many had already heard the concert through the numerous, but low quality, bootlegs that had been released. Although widely believed by many to have been recorded at Dylan's Royal Albert Hall concert, it was actually recorded at the Manchester Fair Trade Hall on the 17th of May, 1966.
The concert itself is magnificent and is split into two discs, each containing a different set. The first disc bears the acoustic set, performed solely by Dylan. The second contains the infamous electric set, with Dylan backed by a band consisting of Robbie Robertson on guitar, Rick Danko on bass and backing vocals, Garth Hudson on organ, Richard Manuel on piano and Mickey Jones on drums.
The sound quality is excellent, being taken directly from the mixing desk.
The overall style on the album is Dylan's soft acoustic folk for the acoustic set and the second set is centralised on Dylan's classic rock styling with blues influences. // 10
Lyrics: The lyrics themselves are the same as those on the album for the most part, with Dylan improvising some lyrics in some parts, although only for a phrase, never a full verse or chorus. He also changes the melody in some songs as well as the rhythm of the vocals. As for his voice it is the usual Dylan, however, this live album is well known for Dylan's outstanding live performance, with Dylan being seen as inconsistent live by some.
I will analyse the performance and lyrics of each song in the two sets by judging lyrics, vocal performance and overall performance:
01.She Belongs To Me: it is said this song was written about fellow folk singer Joan Baez and appears on the album Bringing It All Back Home. Vocally, the song is good, however not a standout track by any means, although considering what other great songs are on this album it would be difficult to achieve that. The lyrics are solid and echo those found on the album. As it is the first track Dylan performed in the performance I assume that he hadn't properly warmed up and so the song seems a bit laissez-faire. 3.5/5
02.Fourth Time Around: found on the Dylan album Blonde on Blonde, Fourth Time Around is about a teenage romance and lyrically isn't great, more of an account of events, but I quite like it and can see its merit. Vocals are a huge leap from those in 'She Belongs To Me'. 4/5
03.Visions of Johanna: one of my favourite Dylan songs it is just beautiful. The lyrics are great and the vocals are one of the standouts on the album. The overall performance in itself is both emotive and personal, creating a beautiful music moment. 5/5
04.It's All Over Now, Baby Blue: I really liked this song on the album... And I really like it performed live. Again, Dylan's voice is soulful, with the lyrics being portrayed as they were intended. 4.5/5
05.Desolation Row: if I could I would give this performance a 6. It is simply that good. It is one of my favourite Dylan songs, with outstanding lyrics and storyline. The performance here, lyrically, is beautiful, with Dylan possibly bettering his performance than that on the album. The overall performance is just fantastic. 5/5
06.Just Like a Woman: I really like this song on the album, Blonde and Blonde and wondered what it would be like live. It is better... Much better. This live version is great with the outstanding lyrics being delivered with a soulful, yet soft voice. The overall performance is amazing, with Dylan slightly changing the vocal rhythm and melody in some places. Simply perfect. 5/5
07.Mr. Tambourine Man: the acoustic set ends with a performance of one of Dylan's most popular songs from Bringing It All Back Home. It is a nice end to the set with a solid vocal performance. 4.5/5
01.Tell Me, Momma: this signals the start of the electric set with a strong blues tinged performance with an awesome organ backing. Dylan's voice yearns with a snarling howl. Great song, great performance. 4.5/5
02.I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Have Never Met): this is a good song incorporating solid lyrics and harmonica. The live performance is good with Dylan's voice raspy and nasal. But isn't that why we love him? 4/5
03.Baby, Let Me Follow You Down: this is an arrangement by Dylan of a popular traditional folk song. The fact that Dylan was performing this as part of an electric set must have been seen as blasphemy by the audience... Good blasphemy at that, though. The vocals are good and the guitar is a highlight. 4.5/5
04.Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues: this is one of my favourite Dylan songs of all time and so I was sceptical as to what it would be like live. The answer? Brilliant. This song is great lyrically, and instrumentally. I cannot pick out anything I dislike about it. 5/5
05.Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat: this song was written by Dylan about female fashion victims and is still relevant to this day. Vocally the performance is good, similar to that found on the album. Standouts are the guitar solo and organ backing (ok, I just really like organ). 4.5/5
06.One Too Many Mornings: I really like the guitar and organ on this song, with Dylan providing a completely different re-interpretation of the original. Originally an acoustic song I can see that this electric version would have gotten a large portion of the audience offside, but all I can say is that it is a fantastic version. 4/5
07.Ballad Of a Thin Man: it is shortly after this song is finished that the Judas comment is made. I can see why. This song is pure electric rock - certainly displeasing to Dylan's folk fans. The vocals are almost spoken rather than sung on the album and the performance here is pretty similar, although with some more vocal variation. The guitar is a standout, as is the organ, providing the perfect backing for Dylan's crooning. 5/5
08.Like a Rolling Stone: This song has been voted as the number one rock song of all time, however I was never a huge fan of it myself and preferred almost all the other songs on Highway 61 Revisited to it. But this live performance is brilliant. After the events that had transpired shortly before this song started Dylan was annoyed with his audience and throughout this song it is apparent, with Dylan sneering as he shouts the line, "How does it feel?". The pure energy in this song is astounding. Play f**king loud? You bet. 5/5 // 10
Overall Impression: I normally disagree with giving perfect reviews no matter how good something is, because I believe you can always find at least one flaw in almost anything.
Not with this album.
Although his voice isn't perfect and the instruments don't always play completely in time with each other the album only benefits from it. From the personal and lonely acoustic set on the first disc to the blues tinged electric set on the second the album is testament to Dylan's talent and merit as the ultimate American artist. A live album is never supposed to be perfect, it is supposed to be a reinterpretation of the songs. This is exactly what this album is.
The standout tracks on the album are 'Desolation Row', 'Just Like a Woman', 'Visions of Johanna', 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues', 'Ballad of a Thin Man' and 'Like a Rolling Stone'.
If it were lost or stolen I would have no hesitation in purchasing another copy, it is simply brilliant. Truly a piece of rock history and a turning point in Dylan's career.
I wouldn't recommend this for people who aren't Dylan fans, as he is an 'acquired taste', with many people not 'getting' his live performances.
In some places the instruments are a bit out but the album is live - what can you expect?
This is up there with the best live albums of all time. The whole performance is a melting pot of attitude instrumental prowess and vocal brilliance.
What else can I say about this album? Play it f--king loud! // 10