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Review of Dylan/Hawks 1966 Live Recording

by Dave Marsh

From Creem Magazine, Vol 3, # 3, June 3, 1971.

It is the most supremely elegant piece of rock'n roll music I've ever heard. Seeking after virtuous sounds, constantly on the look-out for the lost chord and its derivants, the music that springs out most completely from that place where magic operates most nearly operates as a totality, bob Dylan and the Hawks Live At Albert Hall, 1966 seems closest to what I'm after. Closer than even all the Rolling Stones live bootlegs or even Ya-Yes, perhaps even closer (though in a different way) than the brilliance I found in Live/Dead and Kick Out the Jams when they were released.

The extreme subtlety of the music is so closely interwoven with its majesty that they appear as one and the same. The first time I heard it, the effect was that of so many flashbulbs popping in my mind. Then the crusher: as Dylan and the Hawks tune their way into "Ballad of A Thin Man", a tension, intangible but definable for anyone who has ever seen great music performed in its live context, accrues, becomes almost unbearable and then is relieved by the most precisely perfect note from Robbie Robertson. A swoop of the purest finery, not all flash and filigree but something else, something so simple that it treads the thinnest edge of becoming merely mundane. Its B. B. King antecedents laid bare, it remains the most cosmic rush I've ever experienced from mere music, totally unadulterated by chemical...a pristine swoop, up and then down and then back up again, Robertson soaring on that single note to heights the significance of which the average guitarist couldn't begin to comprehend even if he were capable of playing them.

My response is that crystallization of everything that is rock'n'roll music, at its finest, was to allow my jaw to drop, my body to move, to leap out of the chair, to snap the recorder off and to run for my friend in the back of the house, unheeding the great Garth Hudson organ chords which follow and Dylan's supremely manic vocal, the friend being Robertson freak par excellence (and a damn fine guitarist in his own right). It is an experience that one desires simply to share, to play over and over again for those he knows thirst for such pleasure. If I speak in an almost worshipful sense about this music, it is not because I have lost perspective, it is precisely because I have found it, within music, yes, that was made five years ago. But it is there and unignorable.

It is royal music, as Greil Marcus put it on the phone this afternoon, made for some unknown, perhaps unborn king. Or even for a mere sad-eyed lady of the lowlands. Music that neither struts nor swaggers but still has the charisma that the best music has, the music that you keep coming back to for all the little reasons that none of us seems to be able to quite get down on paper.

Listen to the jest of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (and note how Robertson rocks his way out of that agony!), hear the Hawks and Dylan push Chicago blues to its very limits on "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat". Each musician as finely tuned to the other as any well-oiled rock'n'roll machine; yes, tight, but it is magic that lubricates the music, a magic that transcends "tightness" as a concept. Flowing with it, I believe it used to be called, and somehow more than that, too. More than anticipation, though that is an element and more than genius. The drive from which Dylan and the Hawks derive their energy is beyond mere traditional concepts, it defies criticism, precisely because that drive is criticism.

For the audience that was spectator and at the same time part of this supreme moment of rock creation was half in awe of it, true, but only half. The other half of the crowd hated this music with a vengeance, despise it, it was electric and they wanted no part of it. They weren't hesitant in letting Dylan know it, either. And as each tune wound into the next one, their hostility grew larger, their anger at the very enormity of this ultimate sacrilege - Bob Dylan, folk hero/messiah, supplanted by five scruffy rock and roll veterans - more vast.

Dylan, then, chose his tunes which were most nihilistic, most sarcastic, most bitter, most desperate for this audience: "Tell Me Mama" (with its enduring chorus: "I know that you know that I know that you know"), "Baby Let Me Follow You Down", "Tom Thumb's Blues", "One Too Many Mornings", which was always the cry of a herald, "Ballad of A Thin Man", "Like A Rolling Stone". "You know something's happening and you don't know what it ISSSS", Dylan hisses, Hudson rocking those Ray Charles-like chords so ominously behind him, "Doooo yoooou Mr. Joooooness". Mickey Johns, the drummer here, nearly knocks his kit over with a power rarely matched - by Watts and Moon alone, perhaps - Manuel and Danko merely THERE, solid, the way it was meant to be. Too much of this music is the way it was meant to be for easy belief. One take, you see, and that's it.

Then "Thin Man" concludes and the audience really begins to rave. "Judas" comes the cry and then a few scattered cheers. Silence, tuning noises...Dylan, "I don't believe you". More tuning scraps. Robertson's first guitar chords - "You're liars", Dylan reiterates, and then the ultimate answer. Manuel's piano tinkles the initial chords and then...Then the only answer possible under these circumstances. "Once upon a time you dressed so fine...". The energy is so there, so distinct even five years later that you can taste it, feel it surging in your veins because hindsight is once again more powerful than foresight, you were right and Dylan did know what he was doing. Rock‘n'roll, bless his soul.

Why Bob Dylan later turned his back on the majestic noise he created that night, why he then turned to the shoddy Tin Pan Alley stylings that he seems so enamored of now, is anybody's guess. New Morning may be a new direction but it compares not at all to this music.

Still, the fact that Bob Dylan and the Hawks possessed this magic does, indeed, place them forever among the ranks of rock's great. Dylan had a power that Mick Jagger only approaches, a power to make people think in whole new ways, a power that he used more consciously than anyone else before or since. No one is deserving of more praise.

You can't really write about it, you know. And there's only a slim chance that you can find the tape. It's not all that safe these days to trade tapes, and there's slight chance that any more Dylan bootlegs are going to appear. I've heard rumors but rumors they remain. We'll see. In the meantime, let's suggest something: If ever you hear, for a minute, that anyone knows where to get a copy of this music, make your move. Kick out all the jams to get it. Perhaps half its value is knowing that Columbia will probably never release it, at least not during Dylan's lifetime, though they possess the master.

But more than that, it is merely worth it to know that Dylan and the Hawks - Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Mickey Johns (on the basis of this tape one of the half dozen finest drummers in the history of rock) - once existed and played music meant for immortality. They did, they did it in a way that is so incomparable, and one's only wish that someone, someday will come up with something equally enthralling.

It's been a long time.

Posted in the newsgroup by Paul Wolfe, May 1996.

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