Often referred to as "The Royal Albert Hall Concert" this live bootleg had a mythical status surrounding it, I remember when I was heavily into the Band I looked for as much footage and recordings from that tour as I could find. I was completely mesmerised by what little I saw, the sound was brutal, raw rock and roll at it's finest, unlike anything people had heard at that time. It's an important musical document in the history of Dylan's musical career because that tour signalled the end of Dylan as the folk troubadour and the supposed poet of his generation. Dylan had made the decision to expand and explore musically, to embrace the music that inspired him growing up. Even though it seemed Dylan was now offering no compromise on his journey he did divide each show into two segments, the first was Dylan in acoustic mode, perhaps a farewell to his past, before bringing The Hawks out for the second electric set. It's pretty well documented that as soon as the band showed up the audience went into uproar and a cacaphony of boos and slow handclapping ensued. Dylan seemingly unperturbed and quite possibly stoned out out of his mind ploughed onwards leaving a bewildered and upset audience in his wake. Dylan was deeply revered in the U.K he was seen as the voice of a generation, no other artists matched him so his change musically seemed to reverberate the loudest in the U.K and Europe.
I always tended to listen to the second disc which was the electric side, but in wanting to review this I went and listened a few times to disc one. I think there was a tendency to assume that Dylan was bored with performing his old material in an acoustic setting but it doesn't come across in his performance. She Belongs To Me from the Bringing It All Back Album has that beautiful line
She's got everything she needs,
She's an artist she don't look back.
Listening to him in this setting everything stands out clear, the lyrics feel more evocative and profound because there is no distraction. Visions of Johanna appeared on the Blonde on Blonde album and it continued to expand on Dylan's songwriting style, it seemed that often he was the protagonist but was telling the story as someone watching through a window.
Ain't it just like the night, to play tricks on you when you're trying to be so quiet,
We sit here stranded, though we are all doing our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, tempting you to defy it,
Lights flicker from the opposite loft,
In this room the heating pipes they just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there's nothing really to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind.
Dylan's backing band The Hawks were a veteran bar band from Toronto who had originally formed as a backing unit for rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins, the original lineup featured drummer Levon Helm who hailed from Arkansas, guitarist Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko on bass, Richard Manuel on piano and Garth Hudson on the organ. Helm left the group early into the U.S leg of the tour and when they reached Europe Mickey Jones who had played with Trini Lopez was in the drum stool. When the band came on stage the audience wasn't prepared for the sheer volume and power of the music that was about to begin. Dylan fires off Tell Me Momma, what you immediately sense is a band that knows how to weave a tight groove, the drums are loud and Jones keeps that groove locked in, he has a very ham fisted style, he doesn't possess the looseness that Levon Helm provided. Rick Danko perhaps uncertain playing with a new drummer provided that lock in role, the bass is pounding but there aren't many fluid runs. The person who shines is Garth Hudson who weaves this sound that floats across each song. Robbie too provides some incisive cutting guitar fills, blues and biting rock and roll all meshed together. Robbie and Garth really bounce off each other, with Robbie playing the down and dirty guitar slinger while Garth brings the music to another more exalted plain.
On I Don't Believe You Dylan begins by announcing the obvious, "it used to go like that, but now it goes like this", taunting the audience that everything is now on his terms. Baby Let Me Follow You Down is incredible just bass drum and bass solidly leading into the opening, Dylan leering "Baby let me Follow You Down" before Robbie sets of his incendiary flames, Garth not to be outdone responds by releasing a billowing cloud of notes. All the while Mickey Jones is crashing symbols and sending out thunderous sounds from his toms. Just like Toms Thumbs Blues and Ballad of a Thin Man give Dylan the chance to realise his studio creations live on stage. There is a rough hewn sound coming from the band, ballsy rock and roll delivered to a crowd of folk enthusiasts! The mournful One Too Many Mornings has some nice soulful backing vocals from Rick Danko. Dylan finally puts the audience out of it's misery with a shambolic version of Like A Rolling Stone, but not before someone in the audience has yelled out Judas, Dylan sneers "I don't believe you" he then turns to the band and states "playing fucking loud"! What a brilliant way to end the show! There were more shows before returning to the states and just before more U.S dates were about to begin Dylan had a motorcyle accident. There is a film of the tour the infamous Eat The Document which has some great live footage but also offers some insight into how far Dylan was burning the candle at both ends.