Thursday, May 19, 2011


It's a music collector's dream-come-true. In 2009, a guy named Jeff Gold was going through the tapes of the late critic/Rolling Stone co-founder Ralph Gleason, and found one marked "Dylan Brandeis". Well, whaddya know, it was a show that have never been bootlegged, never been whispered about, but there it was, and better yet, it had been professionally recorded. Winning! The Sony/Dylan camp knew it was a significant find, so out it came lickety-split.

51MqFI8RE4L._SL500_AA300_.jpgIt's an interesting set, not at all remarkable, but very revealing. It's Dylan just before he explodes, recorded May 10th , 1963. Brandeis was holding a little folk "festival" in Waltham, Mass., and got a few big names, Dylan not really one of them. He had one album out at the time, the failed Bob Dylan debut. Things were about to change, as his The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is about to come out, and Peter, Paul and Mary are about to score a major million-seller with Blowin' In the Wind. But the college kids in the gymnasium didn't know about the buzz back in Greenwich Village, and Bob Dylan was still doing his folk club act, which featured some humour, and that Woody Guthrie accent. He only had about 40 minutes that night, in two short sets, so he was playing it safe perhaps, going with the tried and true of the past year.

Too bad the opening number, Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance is cut off at the start; we probably lost a minute there, but it is the slightest song here, a quick uptempo number to get the crowd's attention. Next comes that infamous skewering of the anti-Communist movement in the States, Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues. It does get the laughs Dylan wants from it, and it's only two days before he was going to perform it on the Ed Sullivan Show. CBS censors said no, Dylan said see you later, and left the studio. Here, it's the right audience, Liberal arts students, not middle America, and they eat it up.

Then, Dylan does give them a blast of what he's about to unleash on the world. Two major songs from his pen, Ballad of Hollis Brown and Masters Of War. These aren't funny. In the first, a man kills his family instead of letting them starve to death. The second takes on the arms race. Heavy songs for heavy times, and you can tell the Brandeis audience has caught on that this newcomer is different. For his second set, he's back to the talking blues, with Talkin' World War III Blues and the always-reliable Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues.

We know what happened with him, so we can't really put ourselves in the audience's shoes, trying to decide what this guy is about. One minute he's doing a folk shuck-and-jive, the next he's knocking down the Military-Industrial Complex like no-one else before. Would they have predicted he'd be the voice of his generation? Good question. Almost 50 years later, it still packs a punch, and I would have like to have seen that 40 minutes and seven songs. I'm glad Gleason didn't throw things out.

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