If it weren’t for the emeritus Bootleg Seriesthe live albums of Bob Dylan in the course of his official discography, there would be very few, just six, in the course of a career spanning six decades. Among other things, they would stop in 1995, when it came out Mtv Unplugged. Actually a live record had already been prepared in 1963 with a lot of cover, with recordings from April and October 1963 in New York, but for some reason it was put in the drawer. Several songs from those concerts will be distributed in various Bootleg Series and in 2005 a mini album of only six pieces will be released, taken solely from the concert at Carnegie Hall.
Just the tip of the iceberg of an activity that still absorbs it completely today, with thousands of concerts starting from when, in June 1988, he gave life to the Never Ending Tour, but not even representative of what, for some, is the most significant part of his artistic proposal. At least until a few years ago, in fact, there were no two identical concerts by Bob Dylan, who incessantly has always re-proposed different versions of his songs and completely different set lists even from one night to the next. For Dylan, in fact, as he himself said, “the songs I recorded are not the final form, they are just a canvas from which to start to take new paths “. A restless artist, experimenter, he has always tried to get, as a song about him, to that point where “I will paint my masterpiece”. Moreover, before the NET, each new tour was a different musical proposal: from folk, to rock’n’roll, to gospel, to blues, he has thoroughly explored every corner of American music. Then these expressions ended up all together in an approach that also extended to the sophisticated pop song of the crooners a la Frank Sinatra. The reason for Dylan’s reluctance to release live records is due to his conception of himself, essentially a folk musician: after one concert, one moves on to the next. It is all in the making, it makes no sense for him to stop what has been done in a recording. It is all improvisation that must be enjoyed by those lucky enough to attend that particular show. Then, as mentioned, his record company began to publish live retrospectives of the past and there everyone was able to touch firsthand what an immense artist Bob Dylan was on stage. Here are ten of his most interesting live releases.
1. The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert (1998)
In the history of music of the 900 there is a before, when Bob Dylan was a folksinger, and an after, when he becomes the most devastating rocker in the world. After that July 1965 when he first performed with a band in Newport, rock music will change forever. Accompanied by Robbie Robertson’s The Hawks, Dylan challenges the world of folk purists and the libertarian left who accuse him of having sold out, welcoming him every evening with whistles and throws of objects. He doesn’t care, because he knows he’s right. This concert, for a long time wrongly referred to as being held in London, is actually that of May 17, 1966 at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester where we witness the climax of this clash. A spectator yells at him “Judas!”. He replies “I don’t believe you” and then turning to his musicians yells: “Play fucking loud”. And every protest is submerged and annihilated by the greatest rock’n’roll that viewers of any era will ever hear.
2. Hard Rain (1976)
At the end of the previous year, Dylan crossed the East Coast of the United States in a bandwagon of old friends from the 60’s folk season in an attempt to reconnect with his origin. These are some of his most beautiful concerts ever in which he picks up his artistic stature. The following year, with the same musicians, he totally changed his approach: the music became glam, punk, acid, devastating, drugged: it was Shakespeare on stage. The photo on the cover says it all about a shocked and shocking Dylan. The only flaw of this record is that it was not released double, even triple.
3. The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue (2002)
Pure poetry, a caravan of gypsies that shows up in the cities without advertising, performing in the strangest places, from prison to Indian reservations. For the occasion Dylan assembles a band of musicians of all kinds, even the former guitarist of David Bowie, Mick Ronson, and for the first and only time in his career he presents live a record that has yet to be released, Desire. And the Rolling Thunder Revue, a vaudeville circus that goes beyond any logic of entertainment marketing. Bob Dylan finally reconciles with his past and with his audience and unleashes some of his most exciting performances ever, between folk and rock.
4. Live at The Gaslight 1962 (2005)
When he was still a folksinger among many. This recording, which dates back to October 1962, in the period between the release of the first album and that of the consecration, The freewheelin ‘, sees him at work in the coolest club in Greenwich Village, where all the aspiring exponents of the folk revival were looking for the limelight. Widely booted since 1973, it contains ten pieces, between original and old traditional songs. He’s the protest singer, and in between John Brown And Hard Rainat the same time the passionate researcher of the Invisible Republic, with touching renditions such as Barbara Allen And Moonshiner. A record that is a “must have” for any serious collector.
5. The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979–1981 (2017)
Only partially live as this box set of eight CDs and a DVD contains many studio songs relating to the so-called “religious” period (1979-81), however, it presents four concerts (not integral) from 1980 and 1981 plus other live tracks also from 1979. He is a Dylan totally in a state of grace, caught by the sacred spiritual fire, who throws himself totally into the gospel and R&B with amazing results. Many of his songs will never be released in the studio, others are traditional black music. Dylan makes fire and flames, accompanied by a superlative band and backing vocals.
6. Before the flood (1974)
The “comeback tour”: Bob Dylan returns to concerts after eight years of absence, in which he tried to overcome the trauma of the 1966 protests. He does so with the same musicians of the time, now become The Band, one of the most important groups of the rock scene. And with them he unleashes vengeful rage and violence on an astonished and adoring audience. Each song is a machine gun discharge, a battle without quarter: Dylan and his companions do not take prisoners, you do not get out of here alive. “We fought a good fight in 66, but we won the war in 74,” Robbie Robertson will say.
7. MTV Unplugged (1995)
Bob Dylan does not escape the fashion of the moment, the acoustic concerts for the most important musical television. However, he would have liked to sing old traditional songs, but MTV forces him to a succession of hits and he feels the boredom that shines through for example in Knockin’s on heaven’s door or in one Like a rolling stone that swerves on all sides. Elsewhere the result is magnificent and happens with the most ancient and precious things, such as John Brown And With God on our side. It is the only official documentation with one of the bands that accompanied him in the NET, one of the best: John Jackson on guitar, Bucky Buxter on pedal steel and mandolin, Winston Watson on drums. Special guest on keyboards were Pearl Jam and Springsteen producer Brendan O’Brien.
8. Real live (1984)
The only tour of his career that touches exclusively Europe while neglecting the United States, appears disappointing in the first phase (including Italy, the country where he performs for the first time), but gains more and more vigor in the course of the evenings. Accompanied by a great band of British blues veterans including former Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, Dylan is in great shape, especially in the acoustic pieces, performed with immense transport. It should have been a double album, because there were so many exciting performances.
9. The Bootleg Series Vol. 6: Bob Dylan Live 1964, Concert at Philharmonic Hall (2004)
Known as the Halloween concert because it was held on the evening of October 31, 1964, widely known in pirate publications, it contains the entire show at the New York Philharmonic Hall including duets with Joan Baez, then his partner in life and music. . Although Dylan inside himself was already veering towards the rock phase, the concert documents him perfectly at the peak of his acoustic ability: the repertoire in fact draws mainly from his so-called protest songs, presenting a total involvement with his audience, with who talks and jokes. Dylan, however, anticipates the future turn with for example Mr. Tambourine Man where the new psychedelic visionary nature stands out. It remains an essential document of an unforgettable historical moment.
10. Dylan and the Dead (1989)
As a demonstration of how little he cares about his live performances once they are finished, the record is left entirely in the hands of others and is a bad representation of what was instead a very interesting tour: the greatest songwriter of America with the greatest rock American band. There are bootlegs that show how many excellent performances there were, such as the first live performance since 1963 of John Brown. In the released disc, the beautiful rendering of Queen Jane aproximatelynever performed live before, by Slow Train and of All along the watchtower. A shame. How unfortunate that for reasons of no agreement between record companies, a record of the two tours with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers has never been released, simply fantastic.
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