It shouldn't have come as much of a shock when Bob Dylan plugged in and played a short electric set at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. After all, the half-electric Bringing It All Back Home had already been released complete with the radical "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and "Like A Rolling Stone" was already on the radio. But when Dylan played the electric portion of his set backed by members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (whose presence had already created controversy), it shocked Dylan's fans. Many of them saw the presence of a rock band as a betrayal of his folk and protest-song roots, and as an attempt to sell out commercially. In the former respect, at least, they were right. Instead of folk-rooted political material, Dylan became interested in a raggedy, blues-rooted, oft-surreal rock sound, a sound found in the incendiary concerts he would perform backed by Robbie Robertson and the band that would become The Band. It wasn't a complete break in theme or substance, as this recording of a May 1966 concert in Manchester, England, bears witness. But it was pretty radical. Widely bootlegged for years and misrepresented as a concert from London's Albert Hall, the set appears here legitimately for the first time, spread out over two CDs. The first disc captures Dylan's acoustic set, free of the crowd-pleasing early material that still served as the core of Dylan's British popularity a year after the tumultuous tour captured in the film Don't Look Back. Sounding in fine form, Dylan cruises through seven songs, largely drawn from Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and the then-forthcoming Blonde On Blonde. But if Dylan sounds a bit restless, and a bit more fierce on his harmonica solos, it's not enough to prepare the crowd for what's to come in the electric set captured on the second disc, a performance as potent, confusing, and confrontational as an Andy Kaufman routine. Before what sounds like an increasingly hostile crowd, Dylan and the group then known as The Hawks perform eight songs that are electric in more than one sense of the word. From the non-album "Tell Me, Momma" through "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Ballad Of A Thin Man," Dylan and The Hawks create a sound that's as tough as it is loose, as decades of traditional American music boil up through the group's rock 'n' roll. To the approval of many in the audience, one unhappy concertgoer shouts, "Judas!" before a climactic version of "Like A Rolling Stone." Time proved him wrong, of course, and Live 1966 captures an important chapter in both Dylan's history and the history of popular music in general. It may be the most vivid available document of a important transitional period in Dylan's work, and just as importantly, it sounds as revolutionary now as it did then.
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