Byline: Reviewed by Campbell Docherty
October 31, 1964. A truly prodigious talent with a harmonica holder
and an acoustic guitar smirks archly at the attentive New York Philharmonic Hall audience.
'Don't worry, it's only Halloween. I'm wearing my Bob Dylan mask.'
A throwaway line from anyone else's lips, but Dylan doesn't ever throw away words.
Forty years later, a different Dylan mask is uttering enigmatic lines and shuffling along in a strangely reimagined, post Third World War America.
When this mask (called Jack Fate) sings with his band (Dylan's real touring band but 'acting' the part of the best Jack Fate covers band in town), the music is as thrilling an electric blues as you could hear and the voice is a ravaged, howling, growling thing of weird expression.
Then rewind ten years and you have Bob Dylan: befuddled genius with writer's block beginning to find his way back to his muse. Not a very snappy title for this particular mask, but in those days neither was he.
In front of an invited audience of MTV executives, their friends and pretend friends, Bob picks gingerly through an uninspired set list with a sympathetic but, in the final account, deadly dull band.
No humour, no thrills, no point. But that is MTV Unplugged for you, corporate America's nearly successful attempt to wring all that is vital and exhilarating from live music in the 1990s.
Three new Dylan products to buy - a movie DVD, a live DVD and a double album - and three completely different Dylans to watch and listen to. You don't get that with Ryan naffin' Adams now do you?
Back in 1964, 'protest' Bob was becoming more freely expressive and tiring of the little Woody Guthrie, fighting the good fight, image he adopted in his earliest work. On The Bootleg Series Volume Six: Concert at Philhar-monic Hall, the music is beautifully played but it's the between-song banter that truly reveals.
People's wrists should be slapped for doing it but the temptation to treat Dylan releases as artifacts in an exulted canon is sometimes overpowering.
This album, part of an ongoing series of official releases of oft-bootlegged gigs and studio outtakes, really teases you that way.
His highest profile gig to date, still the darling of the coffee and Beaujolais, goatee and menthol cigarette brigade, Dylan was at his zenith of his so-called 'protest' period.
A song like Who Killed Davey Moore, utterly perfect in its examination from every angle of the recent death of a boxer in the ring, sounds effortless to him. Current events distilled into a tub-thumping anthem, yet, crucial to understanding how and why Dylan changed his persona so often since, not once does it betray a subjective opinion.
From the referee, to the opponent, to the reporters, to the manager, everyone offers an excuse. It's a perfect little tableau of human nature.
It never made it on to a Dylan album because, in just three months time, little Bob was growing his hair, pulling on the black suit trousers, black shades and Chelsea boots and going electric.
In those sessions for Bringing It All Back Home, he would cut Subterranean Homesick Blues and Maggie's Farm alongside densely poetic but personally political acoustic numbers like It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and Gates of Eden.
The last two were previewed at the Philharmonic for the first time and they were already remarkable. Alongside The Times They Are A-Changing and other worthier fare, they shine like a crystal decanter alongside wood-carved mugs. …