The twenty-nine Bob Dylan concert recordings contained on this two-CD set certainly speak volumes on their own terms, but it’s enlightening to learn about the background of this release, if only because it was issued to coincide with a Dylan tour, this was originally to be a Japan-only release, but was subsequently released world-wide, ostensibly ‘due to popular demand.’
Comprised largely of performances previously available only on an extremely limited basis in various configurations of The Copyright Extension Collections Volumes 1,2 and 3 (the highly-collectible compilations released in 2012, 2013 and 2015), there are also a half-dozen tracks originally accessible only as downloads with the purchase of 2016’s The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 Collector’s Edition. Last but not least, this 2018 title is rounded out by excerpts from The 1966 Live Recordings (the 36-CD box, not the double set).
Notwithstanding these sources, Live 1962-1966 is a particularly lucid snapshot of Bob’s evolution as a songwriter and performer. It was, in fact, Dylan’s concerts that initially gained him some renown and his public profile began to rise based on solo performances like Carnegie Hall in October 1963, from whence comes “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Certified celebrity, and no little notoriety, proceeded from concert tours with the group eventually famous as The Band, including this “Maggie’s Farm” from the Hollywood Bowl in September of 1965 and, as so vividly depicted in the array of album covers within the glossy twelve-page insert, this double set spans that period upon which Bob’s reputation was originally based and where, to many, it remains firmly ensconced to this day.
Interspersed with touchstones of his canon, like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” are some nuggets of arguably equal or greater skill in their composition. “When The Ship Comes In” is the definition of poetic allusion, shaded in sociopolitical terms with a barely disguised edge somewhat camouflaged by one of the lesser quality recordings, not to mention Joan Baez’ intrusive harmony singing. On “To Ramona” the author mixes longing and loss in the tender affection with which Bob plays it. Dylan’s leap of imagination is downright startling as it ascends to the wildly poetic peaks of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”) and even more so to the harrowing imagery of “Desolation Row” and “Visions of Johanna:” the inexorable evolution of his art belies the haunted yet electrifying visage captured in photos circa 1966. This handful of cuts where Dylan is accompanied by a band also clarifies, in retrospect, how
Bob’s self-confidence transcended even the abiding collective surety of the Beatles as they hit their own stride at approximately this same time in history. The living, breathing work of a man so sure of his destiny he feels compelled to share, this version of “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” comes from the mythic electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival, backed by guitarist Michael Bloomfield among others, while three tracks, including a vicious “Ballad of A Thin Man,” finds Mickey Jones playing drums for the Hawks instead of Levon Helm (who left the tour in frustration with the negative reactions from audiences).
Unfortunately, the credits for that cut and its counterparts, otherwise attributed to the men who would eventually become The Band), unfortunately omit Richard Manuel on piano, a shortfall in the overall impressive attention to detail applied to this package. That’s not to say Rare Performances From The Copyright Collections can compare to any editions of the stellar archive releases in The Bootleg Series (even in its Japanese package with two booklets and a poster), but those same producers, Jeff Rosen and Steve Berkowitz, deserve kudos for annotating the various sources of the content here as well as those who did the audio mastering.
The technical enhancement has greater and lesser effect throughout Live 1962-1966, but the temptation nonetheless remains to turn up the volume, as much on the bulk of tracks showcasing Dylan with just acoustic guitar, harmonica and voice, as on the performances featuring Bob with a complement of accompanists: the infectious intensity of the performances here is a reflection of the seismic shifts in culture this man has wrought over the course of his career.