The history of rock and roll is marked by a handful of famous (or infamous) concerts that defined eras for better or worse. Among these landmark shows were the Beatles’ last U.S. tour, Jimi Hendrix’s American “debut” at the ’67 Monterey Pop Festival, the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” show at Altamont Speedway, and Bob Dylan’s epochal electric tour of Great Britain in ’66.
Bootlegs of Dylan’s shows have been passed between cognoscenti for generations, but this new two-CD set in Columbia’s Bootleg Series marks the first commercial release. It’s about time.
Bootlegs of these shows have invariably been called the “Royal Albert Hall” concert, although a variety of shows were recorded and made their way through the pirate-LP underground. This set carries on the tradition, yet the name is printed conspicuously in quotations as the show presented here was actually recorded on May 17 at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England. But fear not: this is the famous show.
The first CD features the first half of the concert and the “old” Dylan, playing solo acoustic guitar and harmonica with his nasal voice snarling out the lyrics to songs including “Desolation Row,” “Just Like A Woman,” and the gloriously beautiful “Visions of Johanna.”
The second CD and the second half of the show is where the fireworks begin. Dylan walks onstage with his Telecaster backed by his proudly electric group, soon to be known as the Band and featuring Robbie Robertson on lead – make that loud – guitar. They rollick through “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” “Ballad Of A Thin Man,” and a biting version of “Like A Rolling Stone.” Hoots, boos, catcalls, and cries of “Judas” greet the “new” Dylan, but the times certainly were a-changin’.
The band here rocks with an energy and volume few pop acts were able to create, and even from the distance of three decades, this amazing collection sends chills down your spine. It’s little wonder the audience was floored by Dylan’s new vision.
Columbia does this famous concert justice in its package here. The sound is clear and sharp, testament to the recording engineers of ’66 who captured Dylan’s overdriven sound. The 54-page booklet features a variety of classic photos and an evocative, personal liner essay penned by St. Paul bluesman Tony Glover that is itself deserving of a Grammy nomination.
This is a landmark release of a landmark concert.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s May ’98 issue.