Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dylan: Acoustic 1966

Much has been written of Dylan going electric in July of 1965 through his climactic tour of 1966 with The Hawks. But not nearly as much ink has been spilled on his acoustic set that preceded each nights electric performance.
I was seduced by Dylan's acoustic sets from '66 long before I fell in love with his scorching amplified sets. Many of his sets are similar in song selection from both halves of the show during this period, so I'll just be focusing on the first disc from his Bootleg Series release entitled 'Live 1966'.
Beginning with a somewhat rushed version of 'She Belongs To Me', Bob is merely hinting at what is to come in this sonically brilliant set. Alluding, in his lyrics, to secrets some of us keep close to our chest for a lifetime. He recounts a story of love involving thoughts of thievery, perversion, and the magic of young love. Adding "red" to the ring that is sported by his love only enhances the gallop at which he approaches the song. And using the Manchester Hall's wonderful acoustics to his advantage, he wails on harp filling every corridor and ear with the angst and anxiousness of confusing love.
Only taking time to drop his guitar tuning, Bob begins a steady strum of the psuedo parody of Lennon's 'Norwegian Wood' entitled 'Fourth Time Around'. With hysterical lines like "Your words are not clear, you better spit out your gum" and "..I went and looked through her drawer.", Bob proves himself to be as witty as anything that ever fell from Lennon's pen. The final line, "I never asked for your crutch, now don't ask for mine.", seems to address his audience directly. Don't look for Bob to be standing there for any nod of approval, because he'll be moving at the speed of light in his own direction. A playful harmonica solo wraps up the song nicely, almost sounding like an accordion.
One of my personal favorites, 'Visions Of Johanna', is next up to bat. Handling each consonant and syllable with the care that only someone loaded on heroin could, Bob displays his brilliance at capturing a singular moment in time. Exploring his inner self with words that paint a picture as wonderful as any Hitchcock film and just as mysterious and beautiful. Not missing one detail, he places you right in his brick New York apartment with all of its wonderful sights and sounds set out before you. His staccato vocals at the finale of each verse are a joy to experience. His pain in the delivery of each chorus is almost whispered behind the words. And like a passenger trail pulling in to the station, he bring the steaming engine to a halt with another fantastic harp wail.

Next up is one of the finest warning signs ever recorded. Building each verse to a dramatic climax, he quickly pulls back on his delivery after the final line of each verse and falling with an effectively haunting warning, "It's all over now, baby blue." Again, Dylan utilizes the enormous acoustics of the hall to do loops with his harmonica mid song. Each note floating like smoke from a cigar, winding its way upward to the ceiling and beyond.
In the wonderful documentary, Don't Look Back, there is a truly magical scene in which Dylan, Donovan, and crew are sitting around a London hotel room passing the guitar and playing each other their newest compositions. When it's Bob's turn, he proceeds to strum out this little ditty for one of the first times to a mesmerized handful of listeners. Sporting a sly grin with the delivery of each chorus, Bob knows he has trumped all other songs played that evening(especially Dion's!).
A small cough starts off the spiritual reading of 'Desolation Row' that follows. Quite possibly the finest surrealist lyrics to flow from his electric typewriter, he takes his time with each character and nuance, weaving a web that ensnares the listener in a story of fantasy and despair. And once again, using his harmonica as a galloping white steed that projects the song forward through misty hills and cobblestone streets lined with storybook characters locked in a fairy tale for the ages.
If you've read my previous entries, you know of my fondness for 'Just Like A Woman'. This version is no exception. His voice rough from the previous songs, he tackles thoughts and feelings not touched upon by any other musical artist. So personal and universal are theses emotions, an artist could make a entire career out of this one song. Not Bob, though. Grasping for the untouchable and reaching for the unknown is his forte. This songs simplicity is its master stroke. Heartbreaking and uplifting all in the same breath.
As if to throw a bone to the crowd, he rushes through 'Mr. Tambourine Man' at a hurried pace. It's most effective moment is, surprise, during the mid-song harp solo. Swirling the reeds to their highest note and collapsing them to a delicate finale. And if you aren't swept away by the lyrics, "To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free", you ain't livin' brother.

iPod Song of the Day: 'Keep It Greasy' from Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage


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