Wednesday, May 4, 2011

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

Considering the long list of performance recordings, Bob Dylan in Concert: Brandeis University, 1963, is fresh, vibrant and engaging. Sung from the stage of the gym, he performs seven of his own compositions all of which are heard for the first time anywhere outside of Greenwich Village. Captured on tape by Ralph J. Gleason, the performance lay hidden in his house for 50 plus years only to be discovered by Jeff Gold in 2009. Gold is a collector and he found the tape box simply marked "Dylan Brandeis" among the late music critic's belongings. What a find!

The concert was recorded just 10 days before Dylan's 22nd birthday and even though it clocks in under 40 minutes, it represents a breakthrough for the artist. It captures the young Dylan exuberantly channeling Woody Guthrie while still in the process of developing his own voice. The evidence is stronger on this recording than on Live At The Gaslight 1962 where Dylan's set consisted of traditional music with a couple of originals. The Brandeis concert features seven original tunes and not what could be considered standards like "Blowin' in the Wind." That song is noticeably absent from the set. Instead, Dylan lays out three talking blues songs, plus "Masters of War," "Bob Dylan's Dream" and "Ballad of Hollis Brown." Consequently, what we get is a blend of Guthrie inspired numbers and new songs that prove Dylan was no fluke when it came to songwriting. (Just check out the Witmark Demos from last year.)

But it's the spirit of his performance that truly grabs your attention. This was Dylan as a troubadour singing, donning his soon to be trademark guitar and harmonica. The audience sounds riveted to every word he sings and we are too, because Dylan demands our full attention with his respectful charisma. What we get here is a performance that is confident, edgy and political.

The second set offers a more buoyant presentation of three songs highlighted by the beautifully rendered "Bob Dylan's Dream." Dylan sings with an assured sense of romantic melancholy with just the right amount of cynicism. I can just picture the young girls swooning at the front of the stage hanging on his every word. That assurance, as heard especially on the hilarious "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues," opens the door for him to act in an outgoing irreverent way. (He introduces the song as a real event that "never happened.") It displays much of his story-telling charm.

Bob Dylan will be 70-years-old on May 24th. His vast catalogue of recordings has rendered listeners intrigued, confused, rejected, and inspired. This brief concert captures Dylan the younger at a time in his life when his first album had gone unnoticed and his second was about to be released. It was called, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and it was released about a year after the Brandeis University gig. That record would bring him to full consciousness around the world. It would also feature many of the songs first heard here like "Masters of War" and "Bob Dylan's Dream," plus the anthems, "Blowin in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." It was that album that featured the now iconic cover photograph of Dylan and the late Suze Rotolo.

[For more about Suze, read my Critics At Large colleague Susan Green's great story here]

Bob Dylan in Concert is a remarkable find because it reveals the man at a time when his voice was bright, his guitar-playing exquisite and backed by the forceful harmonica that, ironically, he rarely plays today.

-- John Corcelli is a musician, actor, writer and theatre director.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the heads-up.... I will definitely get this. I like his early stuff.