Music

Bob Dylan's 'Live 1962-1966' Offers Landmark Moments and Sharp Performances

Given the overflow of archival Bob Dylan material available, there's value in curating key recordings into a coherent two-disc set.

Live 1962-1966: Rare Performances from the Copyright Collections
Bob Dylan

Legacy

27 July 2018

The story behind Live 1962-1966: Rare Performances from the Copyright Collections wouldn't offer much optimism. Starting in 2012, Sony began releasing extremely limited collections of Bob Dylan recordings, primarily to prevent the material from entering public domain under now-changed European copyright law. The sets were not only rare but nearly impossible to obtain in the US. While that might sound like hidden treasure chests, the material wasn't extensively curated, offering multiple takes of songs, various scattered live versions, and collections that would be of more value to Dylan scholars than to Dylan fans (such as there's a difference between the two at this point).

Fortunately, Live 1962-1966 boils it down to two solid discs, picking highlights that both represent the multiple eras here and are, even out of context, high points. And, yes, there are at least two clear eras present in the four years covered here. The curating puts the tracks in nearly chronological order, and while the discs don't explicitly create a narrative, they do reveal a progression in their grouping of Dylan's songwriting and performing. We can listen as he moves from folk singer to rock 'n' roller, electric backing band and all.

The set makes a point capture noteworthy moments. It opens with the debut performance of "Blowin' in the Wind", from Gerdes Folk City in 1962. Dylan hasn't fully developed the song yet. This two-verse version works like a test flight. The second track brings "Corrina, Corrina" from the same night (though from earlier in the set – "Blowin' in the Wind" makes a better album opener). Dylan sounds young but semi-professional at worst at this point.

Just a year later, he's moved to Town Hall. He's now playing major solo shows. "Seven Curses" shows him reworking folk tradition, and "Boots of Spanish Leather" captures a wonderful rendition of a vulnerable song that can, at times, take on more of a sneer. From there we jump to Carnegie Hall for a couple of protest songs before we hit another landmark, his performance of "When the Ship Comes In" with Joan Baez from the March on Washington in August 1963. Baez's backing vocals add musicality and a bit of gravitas; looking back, it adds to the historical significance.

Other than the Baez vocal, the first disc focuses on solo Dylan with just his guitar and harmonica. The second disc picks up with the same sound, but by 1965 Dylan sounds less like a coffeehouse singer, with hints of the transition exemplified by Bringing It All Back Home. Interestingly, we get a wonderful solo acoustic version of "She Belongs to Me" from the Royal Albert Hall. That track moves right into the first appearance on this set of a full band, appropriately enough on "Maggie's Farm". The set only contains five group rockers, with various configurations of Hawks/Band members, Michael Bloomfield, and Al Kooper, but it does include a cut from the infamous 1965 Newport Folk Festival, "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry".

Three tracks come from the well-documented 1966 world tour, with Dylan essentially backed by the Hawks (with Mickey Jones replacing Levon Helm on drums). The tour has become one of rock's most famous; the tracks here are representative, with "Ballad of a Thin Man" the standout among the group. The disc closes with a solo rendition of "Visions of Johanna", a reminder that Dylan's progression over this stretch wasn't simply from acoustic folkie to electric rocker, but one of expanding vision.

It's a little hard to understand why a set like this would have been developed just a tiny bit to be included in the Bootleg Series. Recent releases in the series and some of the best throughout have been more narrowly focused, covering either a short period or a given performance. The series compilers haven't been beholden to that approach, though. The first three volumes (released together) cover almost 30 years; the eighth volume picks up from there, running from 1989-2006. It would seem more sensible and even attention-worthy to make a release like this one part of that set. Instead, it exists as an odd compilation of compilation cuts.

That's a quibble for collectors and, probably, marketers, though. The availability of Dylan demos, concerts, and other oddities has become a sub-specialty over the years. These two discs don't offer stunning new insights or much in the way of surprise. For Dylan fans, and for those not up for the challenge or expense of tracking down and sorting through the vast expanse of material, Live 1962-1966 offers a cogent and sensible sequence of live recordings from his initial stages, capturing both important moments and strong performances.

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