Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan in Concert: Brandeis University, 1963

Written by April 11th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan in Concert: Brandeis University, 1963
(Sony Legacy)
Rating: ★★★½☆

The first track on Bob Dylan in Concert: Brandeis University 1963 is an incomplete recording of “Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance” (Henry Thomas, 1927), a tune – like all the songs on the disc – Dylan had just recorded for his sophomore release The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. In the song’s first discernible line, Dylan cries out “Honey, just allow me one more chance/To do anything to you!”. By the time the driving ditty comes to an end the audience’s enthusiastic response makes it clear that the young man won’t be asking permission for anything again for a very long time.

Recorded just before the release of Dylan’s breakthrough album, the Brandeis University disc is a once-in-a-lifetime-document of a cultural icon in the last shadows of anonymity. Seventeen days after the show, “Blowin’ in the Wind” would be released as the first single off his new record. Two months after the concert he’d make his historical, national debut at the Newport Folk Festival. However, if not for a fortuitous chain of events, this record may have never been released.

Wanting to document the Brandeis First Annual Folk Festival on May 10, 1963, the university arranged for a tape machine to be set up and Dylan – along with a roster of other acts – were all recorded for posterity. Dylan’s performance passed through a number of hands before ending up in the audio archives of legendary critic and late Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Ralph J. Gleason. The tape – simply labeled “Dylan Brandeis” – was recently discovered by collectible record expert, appraiser and vendor Jeff Gold.

In addition to the tape’s rarity and historical importance, its stereo-recorded quality and Dylan’s seven song performance make this a CD worth hearing – and not just talking about. At turns witty, sarcastic, evasive and chilling, Dylan’s mercurial song-cycle takes listeners from the exuberant opener, through the sarcastic jibes of “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” and into the bleak sorrow of “Ballad of Hollis Brown.” After Dylan sings the song’s last line – “There’s seven people dead on a South Dakota farm/Somewhere in the distance there’s seven new people born” – the surging applause that follows carries a palpable sense of awe, and for that one, full moment, before Dylan launches unmercifully into a spiteful version of “Masters of War”, one gets the sense that the people in the audience at Brandeis that day caught a glimpse of the four-plus decades of culture-changing music that was yet to come.

The disc also includes renditions of “Talkin’ World War III Blues”, “Bob Dylan’s Dream” and “Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues.” Dylan scholar Michael Gray penned the liner notes.

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