Vinyl Vlog 182

Vinyl Vlog 182

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Record Store Day release of The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert 1966 2LP by Bob Dylan.
It’s incredible how personally fans of folk music took the form in the 1960s. Back then, any new development or movement away from classicism was seen as abhorrent and rejected wholesale by purists. Of course, taking such a rigid stance was akin to inviting some upstart to come along and upset it and, in 1966, Bob Dylan finally managed to start doing that when he electrified his sound and brought a rock band to the stage as his accompaniment on his tour to support his then-new album, Bringing It All Back Home. At the time, folk fans were incredibly upset by the singer’s change; critics would eventually call Bringing It All Back Home “one of the greatest albums in rock history,” but selling that line to purists was no easy feat. According to legend, purists were very vocal in their scorn of Dylan at concerts but such stories require qualitative proof now, in the twenty-first century – no one believes the myths anymore. Happily, that proof can be found on The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert double album, pressed first for Record Store Day (with wider release scheduled for a later date). This set seeks to offer the experience of the show precisely as it happened at Royal Albert Hall in that the first LP offers a set of solo acoustic Dylan songs which are met very, very warmly (judging by the sounds made by the audience), and then the second LP shows how the tension simply oozed out of the crowd – and out of turntables and speakers, by extension when a rock band walks out, plugs in and begins to support the singer.

On one hand, the manner in which the first side of this set opens is perfectly in keeping with the manners that folk fans once kept, which could be seen as heartwarming but, on the other, the sterility of it is disquieting. Fifty years on, no oe at a live concert (whether it’s in-person or on-record) expects the crowd to quiet down so much that it might be possible to hear a pin drop, but that’s exactly what happens here. It’s a little eerie.

Eeriness aside, there’s no denying the quality of the listening experience. Because the recording is so crisp and clear, there is an intimacy about “Fourth Time Around” which is perfectly engaging and heart-wrenching, in a way (listeners who close their eyes may be transported to the moment and feel as though what they’re hearing is for their benefit alone) and that sense of candor and/or intimacy bleeds over the edge of the song, through the applause and into “Visions Of Johanna” with no break. Even if there was one, it’s debatable if listeners would notice – with “…Johanna,” the spell is cast and the hooks are set deep into listeners. They’ll be pulled along through “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” which closes the side (ironically), but listeners may find they’re not done yet; in this case, having Royal Albert Hall on CD in addition to this vinyl might be seen as handy because listeners who are on their way through won’t be able to change sides fast enough to suit their desires. They’ll do it, of course, but likely with a scowl on their collective face.

Their moods will likely lighten after they DO get the side switched and find the lengthy jam on “Desolation Row” which opens the B-side. On a personal note, hearing the song played out for eleven minutes with the sound cleaned so neatly/obsessively that it’s possible to get a sense of the thickness of the pick with which Dylan is playing goes well beyond satisfying. It’s just so crisp and so clear that it makes lines like “And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning, ‘You belong to me, I believe’/ And someone says, ‘You’re in the wrong place, my friend, you’d better leave’” seem that much more poignant and lonely – particularly with the sonorous echo of this recording too. It is the centerpiece of the first set and while there is more music on the B-side, even repeated listens simply leave listeners starry-eyed at the experience of “Desolation Row.”

As memorable as LP1 is, LP2 trumps it handily. Listeners will actually be able to hear the tension in Royal Albert Hall rise as Dylan’s backing band takes the stage and dive bombs into the crowd’s collective face with the sexy and dark “Tell Me Momma.” It’s funny too because it seems as though even the production staff didn’t know what to expect because the sound clips at first. It’s cool because, even fifty years after the fact, hearing the crew caught off-guard and both singer and band clearly reveling in it feels like such a deliberately contrary act; “going electric” is one thing, but flat-out sticking it to people is quite another.

The “willfully contrary” vibes set forth by “Tell Me Momma” continue after the house crew gets a handle on the new levels for the board, and “I Don’t Believe You,” “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” and (on the album’s D-side) “Like A Rolling Stone” all shimmer and shine with an audible, bad-ass smirk plastered all over Bob Dylan’s face. There’s no question regarding whether the singer’s having fun with the fact that he’s being rebellious (“These are protest songs,” he declares, and, “This is American music – not British invasion music”), and that would be a tawdry problem – if this record didn’t sound so good. The revelry of both the band and singer is infectious and that forgives the more ridiculous moments (see “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” for an example of those) by just being young, brash and rebellious all at once.

Listening back to this show now, there isn’t a soul who will hear it who will be able to miss the importance of it as well as the sophisticated arrogance it so boldly embodies. It’s still debatable if the world was ready for folk to join the pop idiom when it did; the genre was finally starting to get its due on an international stage, but who knows how much it might have grown if Dylan hadn’t challenged the establishment and forced some evolution within it.Such questions could be debated endlessly but, listening to Royal Albert Hall 1966, the finer points of the timing quickly prove themselves to be irrelevant. The spirit of rebellion that is so plainly present here honestly sounds awesome and missing the opportunity to experience it would be tantamount to doing oneself a fantastic disservice. This moment in time needs hearing so, on Record Store Day, go find it and hear it, reader. [Bill Adams]


The 2LP, Record Store Day edition of The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert will be released on November 25, 2016. Find a copy at your local independent record store!

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