Sunday, September 02, 2018

Review: Bob Dylan’s ‘Live 1962-1966’ collects powerful concert performances

By Wade Tatangelo
August 22, 2018
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From 1962 to ’66, Bob Dylan reigned as one of the most influential figures in popular music. He released such landmark albums as “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and “Highway 61 Revisited,” in between giving enthralling concert performances at iconic venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City and Royal Albert Hall in London. While Dylan didn’t release a live album until 1974′s “Before the Flood,” his 1960s concerts have been nicely documented since the 1991 launch of the official “Bootleg Series” series. Then, in 2012, Dylan’s record label released the first of several massive, extremely limited edition “50th Anniversary/Copyright Extension” box sets to keep his music from entering the public domain. The newly issued two disc “Live 1962-1966: Rare Performances from The Copyright Collections” does an expert job of cherry picking from those previously issued “copyright extension” sets, as well the immense “Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966″ and the 36-CD box set “1966 Live Recordings.”
“Live 1962-1966” follows Dylan’s rise from Greenwich Village coffeehouse gigs to a whirlwind tour that covered Europe and Australia. Disc one is 16 tracks from ’62 to ’64 with just Dylan accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. Joan Baez sings with him on a version of “When the Ship Comes In,” a jeremiad laced with biblical references from the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. While it’s a treat to hear this historic performance as well as early live versions of hits like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changin,’” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”; the real gems, for me, at least, are the more obscure songs. For instance, “Seven Curses,” Dylan’s rewrite of the ancient folk song “The Maid Freed from the Gallows,” has never sounded more haunting than on this rendition from a tremendous ’63 Town Hall concert in New York City, which is represented here with five tracks including a most tender “Boots of Spanish Leather” and the potent anti-war song “John Brown.”
Disc two finds Dylan ditching protest music in favor of the surreal imagery found on impressive renditions of such epics as “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “Gates of Eden,” “Desolation Row” and the album closer “Visions of Johanna” from Belfast, Ireland, in May 1966. The transition from solo acoustic performer to a folk-rocker capable of raising all kinds of hell is represented with a “Maggie’s Farm” from ’65 recorded just over a month following Dylan’s shot-heard-around-the-music-world electric performance of the same song at Newport Folk Festival. Whereas that performance appeared on 2005′s “The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack” from the same ’65 Newport set we do get “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” featuring sinewy lead guitar by Michael Bloomfield. Three electric numbers featuring lead guitarist Robbie Robertson and other future members of The Band are culled from the famed ’66 tour. The “Ballad of a Thin Man” from Edinburgh, Scotland,” has to be one of Dylan’s all-time great vocals, the lunatic lyrics matched by the madman organ playing of Garth Hudson.
While “Live 1962-1966” isn’t exactly essential, it’s a most welcome release for us Dylan fans unable to get our hands on those rare and pricey “50th Anniversary/Copyright Extension” box sets.

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