The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Live 1966 - The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Live 1966 - The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert

The first thing to know about Bob Dylan’s infamous and much-bootlegged “Royal Albert Hall” concert is that it was not, in fact, recorded at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Dylan would end his lightning-rod 1966 tour on May 27—the second of a two-night stand at the palatial round theater. But 10 days earlier, Dylan’s caravan had stopped at Manchester’s less grand Free Trade Hall for his customary two sets: The first one acoustic, to satisfy those hungry to hear his early work, and the second one electric, to thrill those rebellious few delighted with the raucous turn on 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home. That’s the show that erroneously became known as the “Royal Albert Hall” gig. It’s also the performance that became forever consecrated as the moment Dylan told his flock he had more to worry about than their opinions. Indeed, opinion on Dylan’s performances through 1966 were so heated and divided that Levon Helm—the anchor of Dylan’s live backing band, The Hawks—split before the tour began in earnest, to be replaced by a string of drummers. Dylan didn’t make the acoustic half much easier on himself, with three of the seven songs stemming from the then-unreleased Blonde on Blonde. By the time his raucous support arrived for the second set, some of the crowd was already in a fit. When former disciple Keith Butler yelled “Judas!” from the audience following an especially brooding “Ballad of a Thin Man,” Dylan stepped to the microphone and sneered: “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” He then turned to his crew, demanded that they “play fucking loud,” and launched into a surging “Like a Rolling Stone.” It is one of the great lines drawn in the shifting sands of rock ’n’ roll. Lost in that hubbub, though, and the pending release of Blonde on Blonde—as well as Dylan’s career-changing motorcycle crash—is just how on he was on this tour, despite being so tired and tested. Dylan renders the songs of the first half with crystalline vision, slicing each word off as with a knife; his harmonica playing, especially at the end of “Just Like a Woman,” is tangled and complex, a master class in emotional improvisation. And he and the band are a beautiful mess, with Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson adding florid layers at every turn. As for Helm: Though he’d go on to become one of rock’s most sacred drummers, Mickey Jones proved to be a perfect substitute, powering these songs with the sort of devil-may-care gusto that Dylan demanded that fateful and fabled spring of 1966.

Disc 1

Disc 2

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