Sunday, June 11, 2017

Live 1966 "The Royal Albert Hall Concert" The Bootleg Series Vol. 4

Released October 13, 1998
On May 17, 1966, exhausted and weary after a grueling tour through Europe, Bob Dylan performed before a hostile audience in Manchester, England.  He performed a solo acoustic set and was then joined by the Hawks for the electric portion of the show. On that night a spectator famously cried "Judas" when Dylan begin to play "Like A Rolling Stone."  Feeling betrayed at Bob's embrace of electric music and abandonment of politically driven songs, fans were divided.  Determined to go his own way, Dylan extolled his band "to play fucking louder" as the boos continued.  A performance of historic importance in the frenzy of the mid 1960s, an unforgettable confrontation between artistic expression and audience expectation.

Acoustic Set:

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

The acoustic set is subdued.  Filmed by the same crew that followed Dylan around on Don't Look Back, he sits slouched over as he strums his guitar.  Dylan's performance lacks the passion he brought to them in the studio, here the effect is more hypnotic. He seems to be serving as his own opening act - or expressing his exhaustion with the folk format. 

I wouldn't single out any highlights from the solo set, except that three of the songs were yet to be released: "Fourth Time Around," Visions of Johanna," and "Just Like A Woman." All was prologue to the explosive electric set.

Electric Set:

Tell Me, Momma
I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Met)
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
Leopard-Skin Pillbox-Hat
One Too Many Mornings
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like a Rolling Stone

The second set begins with Dylan's foot stomping as the band launches into "Tell Me, Momma," a song he never recorded for official release.  Dylan slurs the lyrics, sort of Ginsburg meets Jerry Lee Lewis, but the energy of the band gets infectious.  The lazy harmonica intro to "She Acts Like We Never Met" gives way to a psychedelic jam.  An even heavier version of "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down," displays how far Dylan had come since his debut album.  Garth Hudson's swirling organ on "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and Robbie Robertson's guitar perfectly matches the surreal imagery of the lyrics. 

"Leopard-Skin Pillbox-Hat" goes in a more bluesy direction, much more in the style of Blonde on Blonde.  "One Too Many Mornings" gets a drastic reinterpretation as well, the drowsy musings from the original give way to an epic lament on longing.  "Ballad of Thin Man" is even more blistering than the version on Highway 61 Revisited, as the film shows, Dylan took the negative vibes from the audience and threw it back at them. "Like A Rolling Stone" closes out the concert in one of the best live versions, with Dylan almost breaking his voice as the concert ended. Before leaving he offered a monotone, "Thank you," to the crowd.

The Manchester show is historically relevant for many reasons. The year 1966 witnessed rock and roll evolving into not just a cultural force, but an art form. Performers like Dylan, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys were refusing to give the public what they wanted, they were going into their own individualistic directions.  After completing the tour Dylan would vanish from public view for several years, but continued to record music. 

A highlight of the Bootleg Series, "The Royal Albert Hall Concert" would be complimented by the release of The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert released in 2016, the concert Dylan performed a few days later in London.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Time Out Of Mind: Prisoner in a World of Mystery

Released September 30, 1997
"I'm walkin' through streets that are dead."

Thus begins Bob Dylan's 1997 magnum opus Time Out Of Mind.  Seven years since his last album of original songs Under the Red Sky, Dylan reunited with his Oh Mercy producer Daniel Lanois in one of his moodiest albums.  Drenched in blues and folk mythology with some of Dylan's most straight forward lyrics to date, words that conjure existential dread and defiance in cascading waves.

Time Out of Mind won the Grammy for Album of the Year - a work many critics and fans viewed as not only Dylan's return to form, but a masterpiece.

Dylan's ghostly façade on the cover speaks to the "out of time" feel of the entire album, a record full of ghosts.  With the Millennium looming, Dylan seems to be in a race against time itself in a desperate search for meaning, refusing to let the listener off the hook with songs about loss sung with raw emotion.

Even though it sounds grim, the listening experience transcends all the gloom that's balanced by a gallows humor, a scorched earth cynicism combined with fin di siècle grace.

"Love Sick" opens the album with a staccato guitar and the haunting organ of Augie Meyers. Dylan's gravelly singing in the style of a 1930s bluesman.  He sings "I'm sick of love, but I'm in the thick of it," sets up the de facto narrative running through the songs.

"Dirt Road Blues" returns to the walking motif in a song that sounds like a lost jukebox standard circa 1957.  With the proper promotion it would've worked as a single, who knows?

"Standing in the Doorway" continues the walking motif works as a companion piece to "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" from Blonde on Blonde

On "Million Miles" Bob sounds a bit mischievous, "You took a part of me that I really miss."  There's a more of a comic quality, especially with the closing stanza:

Well, there’s voices in the night trying to be heard
I’m sitting here listening to every mind-polluting word
I know plenty of people who would put me up for a day or two
Yes, I’m tryin’ to get closer but I’m still a million miles from you

Dylan's growing cragginess and melancholy with the modern world comes out throughout Time Out Of Mind.  Especially on "Tryin to Get to Heaven", a wistful musing on existence through observing others:

People on the platforms
Waiting for the trains
I can hear their hearts a-beatin’
Like pendulums swinging on chains

Loss cannot be avoided, but we are all in the same boat.

"Til I Fell In Love With You" is a swinging jukebox jam with the signature Lanois "swamp sound" on full display.

The majestic "Not Dark Yet," conjures biblical imagery from the Book of Revelation.  He can't even hear the "murmur of a prayer" and his "sense of humanity has gone down the drain," telegraphs despair and a touch of the divine. 

"Cold Irons Bound" offers more blistering blues, as if a hurricane just blew through the studio, one that will engulf the world.  Ragtag turmoil kicks the album up a few gears, futility gives way to rollicking swagger.

Dylan also included his hit single "To Make You Feel My Love," a song he handed off to Billy Joel and Garth Brooks. Adele also recorded a popular version in 2008.

"Can't Wait" delves deeper into the darkness, here Dylan sounds even more conniving. The "end of time" has begun, the question is for who?  It sounds like 4AM.

And finally "Highlands," the final track that runs over 16 minutes, a Chaplinesque by way of Godard chronicle of a day in the life of "Bob Dylan." "Highlands" lifted a stanza from a Robert Burns poem and transposed the setting to 1990s America. Even though life remains the "same ol' rat race" he decides to get out of bed and face the day. A comical encounter with a waitress parodies the themes of the album as a final joke.  And the last verse:

The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it’s not like the sun that used to be
The party’s over and there’s less and less to say
I got new eyes
Everything looks far away

Like the blind man from the Gospels he's "got new eyes" and is determined to keep on living in spite of everything.

Time Out of Mind propelled Dylan's career into the 21st Century not as a dreaded "elder statesman of rock" but an artist continuing to follow the muse wherever it would lead.