New Pony Records
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  • May 7, 1965 Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England
  • December 10, 1978 The Coliseum, Charlotte, NC
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Liner Notes

On April 26, 1965, Dylan arrived in London to perform a handful of concerts in support of the imminent UK release for Bringing It All Back Home. D.E. Pennebaker captured the moment, and much of the tour, in his tremendous film, Don’t Look Back. These were Dylan’s last solo concerts and, as the film attests, they stand in stark contrast to the fevered pace of the tour and the rising roar of public adulation. Dylan’s arrival was met by a whirlwind — screaming fans, adoring peers, and a dumbfounded press poking and prodding this new spectacle. The concerts themselves are a time of hushed silence and intense focus as the audience seems to hang on his every note and word, like the stillness at the eye of a great storm.

Playing alone with his acoustic guitar and harp, these performances are something of an anachronism sandwiched between the rapidly evolving musical palette utilized in Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Listening to this recording, together with Sony’s superb Bootleg Series Volume 6, one can plainly trace Dylan’s musical journey from that October evening in New York City to this spring night in Manchester, England. The set lists are similar and the overall structure of the concerts are the same. Both concerts open with The Times They Are A’Changin alternating sidling love songs with astonishing new anthems the likes of Gates of Eden, It’s Alright Ma, and Mr. Tambourine Man. However, the similarities in structure obscure substantial differences between these two evenings, six months apart, which testify to Dylan’s rapid evolution as an artist and performer.

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The Halloween 1964 performance captured in Bootleg Series Volume 6 captures Dylan enjoying his life, his music, and his audience before his growing fame begins pressing in upon him. His manner is breezy, full of nervous excitement and still steeped in the stylized phrasing of the folk tradition for which his duets with Joan Baez were an apotheosis.

By May 7, 1965, the arrangements are tighter, the tone harder-edged; Baez is in attendance but not as a performer. The emerging Dylan is perfectly captured in the first verse of Don’t Think Twice played this evening. In his 1964 concerts, Dylan would strike improbably high notes on the first stanza of each verse, prompting nervous laughter from some in the audience, plainly audible on the Halloween 1964 recording. This evening, Dylan begins in a similar fashion, striking the same unsettling high note on the first verse. Yet this time, Dylan himself seems unsettled by the note, laughing at the attempt, and modulating the next verse towards a more wearied, measured rendition which carries through the rest of the song. He is, quite literally, shaking off one stage persona even as he tailors a new one.

Other performances this evening reveal a more aggressive approach, moving beyond the stylized, iconoclastic folk cadences and elocution which make the Halloween concert so compelling; towards the hip, alternately bemused and dismissive irony which would propel Dylan to icon status over the next eighteen months. Where It’s Alright Ma is a wandering contemplative twelve-minute mantra on Halloween 1964, here Dylan plays an electrifying rendition — a tongue-twisting manic chant clocking in at barely eight minutes. By way of introduction, Dylan offers, “This is called, ‘It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding’ ho-ho-ho.”

In a similar vein, Dylan transforms If You Gotta Go from a coy come-on at Halloween to a knowing back-handed seduction this evening; foretelling the sharper-edged version which Dylan would record a few days later in a London studio. Talking World War III Blues is no longer the self-effacing send-up of nuclear nightmares. This evening, it’s been distilled to a cock-eyed word-play with pointed references to Donovan and T.S. Eliot, coming across more as a send-up of the song itself and, perhaps, its audience.

Dylan songbook has also expanded in the intervening six months. Here, Dylan presents breathtaking performances of recent compositions Love Minus Zero/No Limit, She Belongs To Me, and, as a final encore, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue. Some commentators characterize these performances as professional rather than passionate, based on Dylan’s later comments that he had grown tired of the solo concert format and rapt audiences by this time. One need only listen to his plaintive Love Minus Zero, or ferocious It’s Alright Ma, to appreciate the fierce focus of this one man playing his songs on guitar and harp, where the professional and the passionate mesh perfectly into performances which touch his audience as directly as any music ever made. Dylan may have tired of the solo concert format – as he’s grown restless with every other stage of his performing career — but the performances still demand our silent, awed attention forty years after they silenced and awed those in attendance at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.

Track Listing
the times they are a’changin
to ramona
gates of eden
if you gotta go, go now
it’s alright ma
love minus zero/no limit
mr. tambourine man
talking world war iii blues
don’t think twice, it’s all right
with god on our side
she belongs to me
it ain’t me babe
lonesome death of hattie carroll
all i really want to do
it’s all over now, baby blue

Click this symbol to hear one-minute samples of these selected songs. These are 128kbps samples which, depending upon your connection speed, may play instaneously on high broadband, but may take several minutes to begin playing for dial up connections.

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