JUDAS ROCKS BUT YOU'RE STILL A LIAR

 

Bob Dylan was one of the most bootlegged artists of the 60s. Many of his shows became widely sought out records. There was not a strong market for live albums back then due to recording limitations but there were a lot of people who sought out rare and bootleg albums. Dylan was an artist who was particularly burned by bootleggers during the 60s.

 

One botlegged show that attained legendary status was the so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert. This bootleg was promoted as being held at London's Royal Albert Hall although in reality the show was performed in Manchester, England. This show was from May 17, 1966. This was not long after Dylan's controversial decision to add electric instruments to his music. Folkies were flabbergasted but history has born out that it was the right decision.

 

This show featured an acoustic set and an electric set. It is also interesting to listen to some of the confrontations that took place with the fans. It is shocking today that his decision to play electric would cause such a commotion and intense reaction. Guess fans back then were less open to new sounds.

 

 The show was divided into two sets. The first set was a solo acoustic set. Dylan opens up this set with a subtle version of She Belongs to Me. While Dylan never had a great voice, he was at his peak able to perform his songs in a highly evocative manner. One could actually discern words at this time. That is a far cry from some of the later periods when the brilliantly poetic lyrics were reduced to a undecipherable warble.

 

One of the highlights of the first set is the rendition of Visions of Johanna. This is a beautiful song that is also highly regarded as one of the finest American poems of the 20th Century. Dylan enunciates the words and drips some of his trademark cynicism into the vocals. Dylan's playing is very subtle and his voice holds up in spite the wordy content of the song.

 

I also found the version of Just Like a Woman to be well executed. He also does a fine version of It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. These are songs that have become Dylan classics. Mr. Tambourine Man has probably received more airplay from the Byrds version but to truly appreciate the poetry of the lyrics, one should listen to Dylan sing the lyrics. I still find a way to “dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.”

 

What makes this such a legendary performance is the electric and electrifying second set. This release captures some of the tension and confrontation in the air as the electric Dylan performs. Many in the crowd are quite appalled by his decision to go electric. Dylan is determined to rock the house. At one point he urges the band to “play fucking loud!

 

The Band here consists of Robbie Robertson on guitar; Rick Danko on bass; Garth Hudson on organ; Richard Manuel on piano; and Mickey Jones on drums. The Band would become a renown act on their own in subsequent years. They provided a very intuitive backing group for Dylan.

 

A few songs in this set are classics that have long since entered the American canon. Others are less well known but they are stunning in this presentation. This set opens up with a song called Tell Me, Momma. This is a song that occasionally finds itself on setlists from current era Dylan shows. It's a good rocker.

 

Songs like Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues and Ballad of a Thin Man are pretty famous songs now. In Thin Man, the lyrics seem to take on double meaning as Dylan seems to be mocking the angry crowd of folkies unwilling to accept his Franklin-esque discovery of electricity. Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat is a surreal rocker that Dylan still performs often with his current band.

 

The confrontational nature of the crowd becomes apparent when one fan screams out “Judas!” Dylan replies,”I don't believe you. You're a liar.” This is followed by the closing track on the set. He performs a smoldering rendition of Like a Rolling Stone. Here, too, some of the lyrics seem like they could have a double meaning reflecting the confrontation with the crowd.

 

This is a classic rock performance by one of the most significant songwriters in American history. It showcases a turning point in a long and storied career. It also highlights some of the most inspired performances and songs Dylan ever produced. This is an important recording in the annals of rock music. The sound quality and the playing are top notch here. Dylan is at a peak willing to battle with the crowds to present his vision.

 

I think this is a truly essential release. Any Dylan fan who doesn't own this one needs to have their membership in the Zimmerman fan club revoked. I recommend this one for Dylan fanatics and rock historians. The lyrics are also sung clearly enough that I think poetry lovers might also want to seek this one out.

 

One note on the recording. Most of the show was recorded on Nagra equipment but the Nagra tapes cut during two songs: Visions of Johanna and Desolation Row. Fortunately, there were CBS recordings available to splice in the conclusions of these two songs. There is a slight slip in quality and a barely audible change in tone as a result.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

just casually reviewing a long awaited legendary performance.  This was originally written in 2007--a decade before Herr Zimmerman would nab a Nobel Prize for Literature.

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