Bob Dylan: Live 1966 – The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert

bob_dylan_live_66

Bob Dylan:  Live 1966 – The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert

Jordy: It has always been difficult for me to listen to the man-and-his-guitar format.  Rock, in the end, is how a small group of musicians produces a singular, simultaneous sound.  Dylan’s acoustic set on the “Royal Albert Hall” Concert is the former yearning to be the latter.  Each of the songs he performs in it was originally recorded with an ensemble (“Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” are the closest to their original studio releases, lacking only the electric guitar and electric bass counterpoints, respectively).  The stripped-down acoustic versions from this bootleg sound raw and that’s not a compliment.  Furthermore, Dylan is in a fog throughout the set, allowing his strumming, vocals, and harmonica to wander arbitrarily.

 

Adam: The Dylan we hear on the acoustic half of this show is unique.  We know he’s burned out and quite possibly high on amphetamines.  He sounds detached from the music, and he sings in a slightly lower register than we are used to.  I think the unique sound of his voice here, coupled with the sparse instrumentation and the hushed reverence of the crowd (it’s easy to forget there is a crowd at all except when we hear applause between songs) makes the set feel intimate and romantic.  I think the best example of what I’m trying to say is in “Visions of Johanna.”  Listen to Dylan’s phrasing here:  “The country music sta-tion-plays-soft” and “Just Louieeeeese and her lover soooooo entwiiieeeeened/and these visions of Johanna that connnnnnn-quer my mieeeennnd.”  It obvious he wants no one but Johanna.  Paradoxically, given the detachment present in the performance, I think that this version is more expressive and romantic than the studio version.

Jordy: In deference to your argument, I can’t rightly pan Dylan’s acoustic set apart from the basis of my own preferences.  And I like how you wrote the “Visions” lyrics with the drawn-out vowels just like Dylan sings it.  That’s exactly how I do a Bob Dylan impression.  But this makes me think about how the acoustic set is Bob Dylan doing a bad Bob Dylan impression.  For this reason and others, the first disc pales horribly in comparison to Dylan’s electric set with the proto-Band heard on the second disc.  As a historical document, the “Royal Albert Hall” concert’s real significance is in showing Dylan boldly shedding his skin in complete disregard, if not outright contempt, for this British audience and, indeed, his audience at large.  As a musical document, it is as exciting and vibrant now as it ever was.  These are loud, slightly unhinged performances by musicians who haven’t quite reached their prime in terms of chops but display a stomping passion for an art form that was only just coming into its own.

 

Adam: With regards to disc 2, you’re absolutely right.  It is an incendiary performance on all counts.  I think the drummer on that tour, Mickey Jones, put it best in No Direction Home when he said that the band “kicked ass and took names.”  The same worn-out, drugged-up Dylan from the first disc sets fire to the crowd once he’s backed by the Hawks.  In the snippets of film footage from this show at the end of No Direction Home, it’s clear that Dylan is just as detached as he sounds on disc 1, but the band seems to give him the energy and confidence necessary to pull off what is ultimately an inspiring testament to individualism.  On the first disc, regardless of how romantic I think it sounds, Dylan is giving the audience more or less what it wants.  The acoustic set is his entreaty to the crowd to stick with him.  By the time the tour hits Manchester, Dylan knows they won’t like the second half of the show, but his will to be an authentic performer outlasts the boos and the catcalls, and eventually, long after the show is over, the crowd will catch up to him.

 

Glenn: Perhaps now’s the time for me to jump in and say that in many ways Dylan sounds just as detached and burned out on the second disc as on the first. Sure, the band is fired up and Robbie Robertson is spraying sizzling leads all over the place, but Dylan still sounds hungover and, if not bitter, then weary. For me, the essential performance here is “One Too Many Mornings”: a little out of tune, a little slow, a little long but full of longing [Jordy: I love the wailing harmony in that song when they sing “be-hii-iind”]. That, to me, encapsulates this romantic burned-out feeling that Adam points to. I have a question for y’all, though: in the No Direction Home doc, a true believer folkie kid calls Dylan’s backing Band “incredibly cheesy,” something like that. My question: what was this dude smoking? To me the band sounds loose and loud and even amateurish at times, but so far from any precedent. I can’t think of a band that played rock like this before the Band. Can you?

 

Adam: I think the folkie kid’s mindset was that folk was the ultimate form of music, and perhaps the ultimate form of human expression.  He may have also seen folk as a reaction to the popular music of the day, which was dominated by the likes of the Beatles (lest we forget this show took place in Manchester, a mere 50 miles from Liverpool) whom this kid, and most of the other people who were into folk at the time, were probably sick of.  So, the people who had such a vehement reaction to Dylan’s band probably saw the fact that he’d started using a band as selling out to the “pop” trends of the day, which they obviously despised.  Hindsight lets us see that Dylan was in no way selling out; he was blazing his own trail.

 

4 Essential Tracks:
“One Too Many Mornings”
“Ballad of a Thin Man”
Like A Rolling Stone”

 

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15 Comments

Filed under 1960s, Acoustic, Live, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

15 responses to “Bob Dylan: Live 1966 – The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert

  1. Great discussion. I’ve always enjoyed this record mostly as an historical document. When I just need a Dylan fix I usually go elsewhere.

    • F E Mattimoe

      Nice to see someone who correctly picks out the highlights as I remember and hear them. ( I was at the next concert in Glasgow on Thursday of that week.)

      “One too many maornings” is totally stunning. Ditto “Baby let me follow you down”; and personally I hate the blues, even when Bob does it/them

  2. F E Mattimoe

    Mornings!

  3. Dave

    Hey guys..
    This was a pretty great discussion of one of my all time favorite concert recordings. I happen to love the acoustic set though I realize many people feel differently.
    Adam, you said Dylan is “burned out” and “possibly on amphetamines”, I think that is a massive understatment. If you read Clinton Heylins excellent biograph “Behind the Shades” there is actually a lot of evidence supporting that Dylan actually took small amounts of heroin before the acoustic portions of the set. Heylin goes on to describe how Dylans elongated vowels and excessively endless harmonica playing can most likely be attributed to a pain killer induced stupor where these extra elongated sounds must have sounded very pleasant and relaxing to him. Heylin goes on to point out that during intermission Dylan would disappear into a room and come out suddenly charged up and ready to go, implying that he was snorting cocaine or some other ‘upper’ before the second half. So in effect Dylan was using drugs to help distinguish the two halves of the show. The heroin pain killing stupor of the first half mixed against the amphetamine raging second half.
    Honestly, I’m not quite sure why Heylins ideas, which are very well supported if you read the book, have not caught on to a bigger audience. I’m surprised its not more common knowledge that Dylan was at least experimenting with heroin at this time. We know John Lennon and others were. These drugs of course brought to him and made available by that Angel/Devil constantly following him around, Albert Grossman.
    I could talk for hours about the concert but you guys did well I just wanted to add that stuff in. Thanks!

    • I haven’t read Heylin’s book, but thanks for the tip; I will have to check it out. That is some very interesting insight re: Dylan’s drug use on this tour. I thought there may have been some connection between drugs and the long harp riffs. I got most of my ‘behind the scenes’ info from ‘No Direction Home.’

      Glad to hear someone else likes the acoustic set!

      • Dave

        Adam,
        Thanks for responding to my post! The reason I love the acoustic set, even though it might not be a technically great performance, is because its so ‘otherworldly’. Its like music from outer space. The combined sounds of the guitar, his diction, slides and vowel choices, and the harmonica is trance-like. Though he’s obviously talking in English it’s almost as though the way he pronounces the words creates some foreign tongue that only he fully understands. Why he chooses to sing things certain ways definitely has private meaning to him, I can only wish I could know whats locked away inside that mind. Of the many ‘voices’ Bob Dylan has used throughout his career, the acoustic set of the 1966 has to be one of the most fascinating

  4. F E Mattimoe

    Whilst the (speculative) detail of the drugs may be novel, the concept that Bob was tanked up way beyond the eyeballs is hardly in the least novel.

    In that context, the motor cycle accident (so called) has always been seen as Bob´s release/salvation/escape route. Right from the day it (didn´t) happen(ed)?

  5. Love the new format. Having just re-watched No Direction Home, I’m now definitely reassessing just what I saw in the prominently-featured Albert Hall footage in light of all the drugs discussion. Just as an aside, I think the rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is fantastic, in spite of whatever happened to be riding through Bob’s system at that moment. But maybe that’s just me.

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  8. This is a very cool article, I could not have agreed more.

  9. Tim Hearnshaw

    Thats the first time ive read that Dylan was using smack.

  10. Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter and musician who has been a major figure in music for five decades ::

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