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Sunday, April 25, 2004

LISTENING POST

RECORDED

Bob Dylan: "Live 1964: Concert at Philharmonic Hall"


The striking thing about the latest addition to the "Bootleg Series" is the realization that four years into his career Bob Dylan was still a callow youth. The concert took place Halloween night, 1964, a year after the Kennedy assassination, nine months after The Beatles conquered America, but a year or so before the hippies and Vietnam started making the nightly news. Some months later, Dylan would release the album that first upset his folk fan base, and he previews a few of those numbers ("Gates of Eden," "It's Alright, Ma") to appreciative but reserved applause. Even the stuff on "Another Side of Bob Dylan," his most recent album at the time, showed him moving into more abstract territory.

At New York's Philharmonic Hall he's psyched, but unpolished: giggling, forgetting lines, flubbing changes. Less than two years later he'd be telling off audiences as they booed his electric guitar, but here he's adored, and it's easy to see why. In concert, the lyrics have a conversational immediacy that must have been shocking to anyone who grew up in the '50s. The audience laughs and applauds during the as-yet unreleased "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," a song that mocks the sex dialectic of dating by revealing it for what it is, and the clarity and exuberance of the performance ("I'm just a poor boy lookin' to connect/But I don't want you thinkin' I ain't got no respect") reveal he's already past it.

Of course, it's the protest songs that get the crowd worked up, but you can tell by the way Dylan blows off "The Times They Are a' Changin' " and sing-songs his way through "With God on Our Side," that the "prophet" label didn't impress him. He was, and still is, an entertainer, and seems more himself when he's wise-cracking or showing off his expert comic timing on "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues." People still seem amazed that more than four decades into his career Dylan plays 100 or more shows a year, but they shouldn't be. The Neverending Tour started here.



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