Bob Dylan – the 1966 live recordings
It’s been there since last November, but now is the time for this baby to be moved from the battlefield of “beside the CD player” to the Valhalla of “filed away/never seen again.” Which must mean that I’ve finished listening to it almost every day.
36 CDs covering 23 shows of Bob Dylan’s 1966 world tour might seem excessive and I guess it probably is. If Dylan’s people had stuck to their pricing policy for The Bootleg Series issues, this would have come in about three grand. But this is pointedly not referred to as part of The Bootleg Series and the recordings are also that magical copyright age of 50…so I guess maybe Bob and Jeff generously decided to take only 100 quid for it as a early Christmas 2016 present.
It was a wee bit difficult explaining the necessity of this purchase to my colleagues at the time, but as the lingua franca of that environment was Lego and Star Wars, it shouldn’t have been too surprising…we all know who is right here.
The product is well presented in a nice chunky box, a bit like the Borg’s wheels in Star Trek. Like the Borg, it is futile to resist assimilation – here are four full, professionally recorded, shows from the UK leg of the tour and another nineteen shows which are presented in full or in part from (mostly) soundboard recordings or (a few) audience tapes.
The professional, stereo, recordings are immaculate, the mono soundboards, even when there are incomplete, are nearly as good and the audience tapes are pretty much what you’d expect from 1966 – it is good that they exist, but they can be a hard, if enlightening listen.
Enlightening because, as the audience bootlegs from the 1966 tour have shown, a loud rock band in some of these small theatres sounded terrible, no matter what the expectation of the audiences. Dylan famously was booed and got a lot of bad audience reaction on this tour, but it needs to be remembered that what we have heard over the years (and on this set) are professional recordings and/or soundboards. Even the earliest bootlegs of the Manchester show were from a Columbia professional recording.
So it may be that the audiences of the 1966 shows have been judged harshly for their negative reactions (and as this set shows, there were also positive reactions, the Edinburgh show for one.)
Here’s Bob probably on his way to that show and the same bit of Princes Street fifty years later…the windows at the top right of the Dylan picture are the giveaway.
The sticking point for some buyers, who will be big Dylan fans anyway (a product like this is unlikely to have casual purchasers) is the repetition involved. There are maybe half a dozen variations to the setlist over the 23 shows documented, and certainly the bulk of it is exactly the same setlist every night.
So, what nutter has been listening to this for the last three months?
I’ve rationalised it.
A few years ago, I had a friend who moved house with his family, to the house next door. I thought this was weird, but it was utterly rational; the bloke next door had a conservatory; my friend wanted a conservatory and had worked out it would be cheaper on balance to sell his house and buy his neighbour’s than to build a conservatory.
I loved the logic of this and the parallel to the Dylan set is this; my friend mentioned that although the move was easy, passing stuff over the garden fence, it was weird to look out the windows of the new house and see the same vista, but with a slightly different perspective, as he saw from the old house.
That is what listening to Bob and The Band doing the same setlist over and over again is like; the tiny differences between each night’s vibe become clear (especially on the soundboard recordings, adjusted for room ambience.) Every show is seen through a different “window” and if you have the time and inclination, it is a fascinating thing to do.