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CD: Bob Dylan - The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Bob Dylan - The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert

CD: Bob Dylan - The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert

Great music and no-platforming, 1966-style

Hailing a lift in torrential rain one night from an early 2000s Dylan concert at Docklands Arena – that long-gone ghost of a room – I fell into conversation with a fellow passenger who apologetically turned to me, admitting in old-fashioned Received Pronunciation, to booing the man at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966. You could see it now, I suppose, as a pioneering form of no-platforming – a safe space for the acoustic set.

She was very polite about it, and I doubt if I would be able to pick out her RP boos on the latest two-CD set in the Official Bootleg series, The Real Albert Hall Concert. Maybe she could.

This epochal concert is drawn from the huge new 1966 Live Recordings box set, running to 36 discs. While long in circulation among collectors, the sound quality of the 1966 live shows is indeed amazing – London, along with Manchester and Sheffield, were official CBS live recording jobs, while the rest were sound boards, and a few of the year’s earlier gigs rely on lo-fi audience recordings.

Chris Shaw, the engineer on some of Dylan’s recent studio albums, works wonders on this Albert Hall stand-alone set, and the sound of the room – the audience, the space, the band down there on the stage, Dylan’s hypnotic solo performances – is captured so well you can all but hear the jaws drop and reverberate through the acoustic space as "Desolation Row" or "Visions of Johanna" waft through the hall like opium smoke.

It would be fun to have a boo-ometer with the full set, to see which audiences complained the loudest

Some 30 minutes later, and presaging Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the electric Dylan at one point explodes with a fabulously delinquent-sounding “you talking to MEEE?” – maybe to that polite, apologetic booer, as a few in the audience begin to yell and boo somewhere between "Tom Thumb’s Blues" and "Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat". “Oh come ON! ALL these songs are protest songs!” he cries. It would be fun to have a boo-ometer with the full set, to see which audiences complained the loudest, and which ones proved themselves to be hip. Swinging London proves restless enough but not as shouty as that other “Albert Hall” gig, up in Manchester. As music, it is as good as it gets, and probably better – this was Dylan’s greatest tour; only the impassioned 1979-1980 gospel tours bear comparison. Lots of booing there, too.

You may get the same set 36 times with the big box, but at just over £100, it’s very good value. It joins The Cutting Edge, Complete Basement Tapes and Another Self Portrait for archival thoroughness. But it is also an act more of confirmation than of revelation. The Official Bootleg release of the “Judas” gig was widely received as the latter, while in terms of impact, The Live 1966 Recordings are more a confirmation of what we already know. Maybe that is down to the sheer size – it’s as if the chef has given you everything in the cupboard, fridge and freezer and you have to make your own dishes from it. Or maybe it’s that the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature has cast its shadow over Dylan and his ever-expanding public archive. Or maybe it is simply that the cultural totems we once searched long and hard for lose some of their cultural weight in the instant access of the present. Whichever way you cut it, The Live 1966 Recordings contain some of the great vernacular music of the 20th century. That was how it was, this was how it was done, it’s not going to happen this way ever again.


The line "You talking to me?" comes from Taxi Driver, not Mean Streets.

Thank you. Amended

Nice review: thanks, Tim. Well-informed, engaging, written with verve. Novel Prize? Auto-correct strikes again...

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