"THE GREATEST LIVE RECORDING OF ALL TIME!!!"
"ITíS ALMOST A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE, MAN!!!"
Yeah, right. Statements similar to those quoted above have been uttered about Bob Dylan's so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert since it first surfaced as a "bootleg" album in the early 70s. With its official release in 1998, the flood of enthusiastic raves have continued.
So, who really believes these statements?
Since I got an A in Psychology 101, I suppose I'm qualified to construct a profile of the kind of person given to such overwrought descriptions of this three decades old concert. Letís see, you probably own a vast collection of Bob Dylan bootleg recordings and insist that these highly priced, illegal items put most of the legally available recordings to shame. You have a snobby sense of superiority to the average law abiding consumer and feel as though you are ďinĒ on something, some secret that only you and your ilk can share. You felt ďbetrayedĒ by Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait, and felt REALLY betrayed by Slow Train Coming which deeply offended you with its arrogant, self-righteous Christian proselytizing, even though Dylanís arrogant, self-righteous secular proselytizing won your approval. You probably refer to Dylan as ďBob,Ē as if to suggest the two of you are buddies when, in fact, he neither knows nor cares that you exist.
And, well, I really shouldnít say this but Iím in a foul mood, so here goes: Youíre probably fat, bald, and have a big, bushy beard that hasnít seen soap or scissors since this concert was staged. One whiff of those whiskers would send you on an hallucinatory trip from which there would be no return. You are, very simply, a freak, someone even a Trekkie would avoid because youíre, like, weird, man.
So, what have we really got here?
Well, letís see. Take the plastic jewel box out of the slipcase style cardboard cover, open it up, pry one of the discs from its compartment, hold it up to the light and, goodness me, you can see all kinds of pretty rainbow like colors! Hold the disc in front of your face and you can see your reflection. (We already know what YOU look like. As for me, Iím GORGEOUS!!! Refer to Michelangeloís David for details.) Put one of the discs into the CD player, press PLAY, and, well, what youíve got is an OK concert recording, one that would be thoroughly decimated by an objective comparison with any of Dylanís first three officially released live recordings. Itís certainly worth a listen if you can find it at your local public library (the way I did), and can avoid wasting perfectly good money on the thing.
Most of the songs are good but as long as Iím cutting through all the crap Iíve been hearing about these tapes all these years, I might as well admit that, frankly, some of the lyrics from Dylanís 60ís songs are just plain stupid. Take this example from "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" which is, thankfully, not included here:
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
Itís just symbolism, and pretty trite at that. Silence does not speak or make a sound of any kind, no matter what Paul Simon says. (By the way, have you seen him without his hairpiece? Donít!)
As for most of the other selections, these live renditions are either inferior to, or indistinguishable from, their studio counterparts and other live versions. Then thereís "Like a Rolling Stone." The original studio version is a masterpiece. One of the greatest records ever. But few songs send me diving to change channels faster when it comes on the radio.
As for the supposedly dramatic moment when some fool (since identified as Bleddyn Butcher) yells ďJudas,Ē well, so what? Some fool yells Judas. Itís not exactly on a par with the bombing of Pearl Harbor (anybody out there even hear of that?) although youíd never know it to read whatís been written about this concert through the years.
Speaking of something written, the accompanying booklet is a load of pretentious bilge, but there are some excellent, eye-catching photographs, including one of Dylan surrounded by children, a few of whom are quite obviously the same tykes pictured on the cover of The Whoís Meaty, Beaty, Big, and Bouncy. Almost any photo in the booklet would have made a better cover than that dull head shot (What kind of tasteless hacks make these decisions, anyway?), so dull that Iím betting it had a negative impact on the sales. Then again, the price tag surely helped there. Because they stuff the jewel box in a slipcase style cardboard cover, they want you to believe this is a boxed set. It is NOT a boxed set. Like Greatest Hits Volume Two, Before the Flood, The Basement Tapes, and Bob Dylan at Budokon, this is simply a two CD set worth about $20 at most, so whatís the deal with that price? Itís simply another reflection of the hype, not the content.
© 1990 Brian W. Fairbanks
Bob Dylan at 60
BOOKS BY BRIAN W. FAIRBANKS