Bob Dylan - The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Bob Dylan - The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:8 Release Date:2016-12-09

Somewhere in the transformative period between Bob Dylan’s decision to augment his spare acoustic guitar and harmonica folk persona with a rocking band wielding electric guitars, and his frightening motorcycle crash, the man and his band toured Europe and Australia. The audiences attending these shows, legendary in their mixed reaction to Dylan’s flaunting of feedback in the face of their delicate folk sensibilities, were known to provoke some anger from Dylan, as he encouraged his backing band (The Hawks, who later became The Band) to “play it fucking loud.” This is the stuff of rock legend and Columbia Records was smart enough to record much of that tour. A singular dose can be found on this album culled from a recently released box set of live material recorded during the 1966 tour.

For these shows, Dylan performed an acoustic set and an electric one and the two discs present a breathtaking dichotomy. Featuring a set list strong with material from his acclaimed trio of albums stemming from that same period (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde), Dylan plays loose and even aggressive at times.

The electric half is my favorite, if for no other reason than personal preference. I’ll take the poor mix and the occasional cacophony of The Hawks over Dylan’s piercing harmonica solos, acting as an ice pick in my ear drum, insufficiently buffered by his light acoustic strumming. To be fair, there are solid moments on the first disc. For starters, his harp solo on “Mr. Tambourine Man” is impressive (absent of much of the shriller wailing). “Desolation Row” is every bit as epic as it is on Highway 61 Revisited, and the version of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” does nothing to tarnish one of my favorite Dylan songs.

Disc two, kicking off with “Tell Me Mama,” unique in that it was never recorded in the studio and only played on this ’66 tour, is where Dylan transforms to Hyde after disc one’s Jekyll. Sounding invigorated, Dylan howls, hisses, and sneers his lyrics, riding the chugging rhythm of The Hawks. Even the audience is looser, their polite clapping from the acoustic set now turned to cheers, jeers, whistles, and taunts. At one point, prior to introducing "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," Dylan, interrupted by the crowd’s shouting, asks coldly, "Are you talking to me?" There's a palpable tension you feel listening to the second disc, and it charges the proceedings with excitement. Roaring at times like a garage band in need of practice, the set rolls on like a storm. Culminating in a bluesy, boozy “Ballad of a Thin Man” and a raging version of “Like a Rolling Stone,” Dylan almost seems to be spitting out the lyrics to each audience member individually, daring just one of them to vent their displeasure. It’s powerful and raw.

It might be a stretch, but I think an argument can be made that the roots of punk go back much farther than the 70s in New York or London, and even back beyond the Stooges or MC5. Certainly the method in which Bob Dylan snarls his lyrics in a mix of love and contempt for his audience, deliberately altering the lyrical cadence, thumbing his nose at the fans that foolishly assume he's there merely to entertain them like a live jukebox, is behavior that was mirrored later by Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer. It’s a part of rock and roll; walking the razor’s edge between art and entertainment, and it’s what gives this genre an energy and urgency no other music can match.

Ragged, uneven (particularly on the audio, but also in the performances), but never dull, The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert fits nicely in the cannon of live Dylan recordings.

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