The “Royal Albert Hall” Show



Dylan’s 1966 world tour with The Hawks is one of the most legendary moments in the history of rock music. Immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home, each show opened with Dylan playing a solo acoustic set for the first half, and then, after a short intermission, re-emerging with The Hawks for a rock set. To say that this didn’t go well would be an incredible understatement. Particularly in England, the crowd reacted to the drums, organ and electrified guitars with sheer horror. They abused Dylan and his band, they walked out, they interrupted, they tried to throw the band off rhythm by clapping off-beat.

In his book about “Like A Rolling Stone”, Greil Marcus insists that there was organized Stalinist resistance to the Dylan shows. He notes that the British Communist party-controlled folk clubs across the UK had an approved repertoire of songs that would ennoble the folk, and that Dylan had crossed them by abandoning folk, protest and topical songs. Marcus suggests that these clubs sent people to the shows, seating them strategically through the halls to rabble rouse, complain, and clap off rhythm. I have absolutely no idea if this is true or not, but watching Eat the Document and No Direction Home this week it certainly seems believable that these raging young men standing outside his shows were Stalinists. They were obviously true believers in something, and that something wasn’t particularly Bob Dylan.

A number of shows on the 1966 tour were recorded, in varying quality. It is clear from what I’ve heard from Sheffield, London (the last night of the tour), Liverpool and elsewhere that the reactions were fairly consistent over the course of the month. More importantly, it is clear that musically and vocally Dylan had never been better in his life. In No Direction Home he says something to the effect of “whatever they were booing, it wasn’t what they were hearing from the stage” and he’s absolutely right. Many of the songs performed on this tour are the best I’ve heard so far this year.


Yes, it is true that Dylan didn’t sing the protest stuff, even in the acoustic set. He commonly did “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” from his first album, but a rock version. Freewheelin’ and The Times They Are A-Changin’ were almost completely overlooked. But the fact is on most of the shows at the end of the tour the acoustic set was this:

She Belongs To Me

Fourth Time Around

Visions of Johanna

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

Desolation Row

Just Like a Woman

Mr. Tambourine Man

Seriously, that is an epic song list. That’s several of his best ever songs all lined up in a row. Now, of course, this isn’t the stuff that was getting booed. But Dylan was giving the crowd tight, focused, definitive versions of some of his best songs – I defy you to find a better version of “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” than the one that he did in Manchester – and they were still outraged. Remarkable.

Good shows abounded on this tour. There is a tremendous bootleg of the acoustic half of the final show (27 May 1966) at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where the version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” just slays me. The Sheffield show may have been recorded for a planned live album – the sound quality is impeccable.

The pinnacle of the whole tour, arguably the greatest single audience-performer interaction in the history of rock, took place on 17 May 1966 at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. It was the sixth show from the end of the tour, and it is one of the most bootlegged shows of all time. Erroneously identified by those bootleggers as one of the two Royal Albert Hall shows that concluded the tour, it was released under that name as Bootleg Series 4. If I could only have one Bob Dylan album on a desert island, there is no doubt in my mind that it would be this one.

The Manchester show has no faults at all. You get both sides of Dylan, both at their absolute peak. You get a remarkable set list. And you get the most triumphant version of “Like A Rolling Stone” imaginable.


The second half of this show plays out a bit like a war between Dylan and the crowd. “Tell Me Momma”, the first song with the band, does not have any evidence of the booing – though the applause is markedly more muted than it was in the first half of the show. Dylan then introduces “I Don’t Believe You” by saying “It used to go like that, but now it goes like this”, which is a (good) line that he’d used earlier on the tour as well. Again, solid applause but also a few catcalls, and these grow as Dylan tunes his guitar and plays a little harmonica. Then the clapping starts. It’s a slow, distracting mean-spirited Stalinist clapping that Dylan drowns out with his harmonica and then the band comes in for “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”.

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (awesome version, by the way) receives solid applause but more of the slow-clapping, but then Dylan interrupts it by talking over it. The crowd keeps quiet if they think he is going to say something to them – they’re like sheep that way. When the band takes too long to start the song, the clapping and booing grows overwhelming until Mickey Jones’s drumming leads them to drown it out. “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” follows, and this is a near-perfect version of this song – might be the best ever. Then comes the turning point.

The crowd loses patience as they band tunes again – and there is more clapping and stamping of feet. Dylan is brilliant here – just brilliant. He steps up to the mic and begins to mumble nonsense into it. Eventually the crowd stops trying to upset him long enough to listen to what he might have to say. Which is this: “If you only just wouldn’t clap so hard”. This generates a mixture of applause and boos, demonstrating the strength of the split in the crowd.

Of course, the pinnacle of the entire scene takes place after “Ballad of a Thin Man”. The most famous crowd interaction in pop music history begins with a bunch of people yelling things at the stage that are incomprehensible. Then someone yells “Judas!” at him. It’s as clear as day.

This is how the liner notes for the bootleg Zimmerman: Ten of Swords (which concludes with a recording of the electric part of this show) explained the situation to me when I was sixteen or seventeen: “It would appear that it is in answer to the “Judas” accusation that Dylan responds, “I don’t be-leeeve you…You’re a LIAR… [moving back from the microphone] … you’re a FUCKING LIAR!”.


For decades this is how I heard this exchange. The calls from the crowd are hard to make out if they’re more than a few words, and this made sense. Dylan’s final expletive could have been that. No Direction Home shows that he yelled it not at the audience but to the band – his back is to the crowd. It is also demonstrates that it’s not the “Judas” that draws the “I don’t believe you”, though it certainly might have been what crossed the line. On Ten of Swords you could hear that someone else yells something but it was never clear what it is. Bootleg Series 4 and No Direction Home make the whole scene much more precise:

“Judas!” draws no immediate response although part of the crowd laughs and claps, but then someone else in the crowd yells “I’m never listening to you again, ever!”. This is the man Dylan calls a liar (probably correctly), and then he turns his back on them and tells the band “Play it fucking loud!”. Which they certainly do.

Dylan spits the lyrics of “Like A Rolling Stone” at them. It’s an accusation. It is them that he’s singing to: “Once upon you dressed so fine, you threw the bum a dime, in your prime. Didn’t you?” The music thunders, and Dylan vents his spleen all over the Manchester audience as Jones thumps out a machine gun style drum line.

I was asked the other day if I’m going to make something like a Dylan Top 100 Songs at the end of this. I certainly am. Not just a list of the best songs, but the best versions of the best songs. I can’t imagine that “Like A Rolling Stone” won’t be at the top. I can’t imagine that it won’t be this version of that song. It’s perfection.

The best part of the whole exchange? Listen to the crowd at the end of the song. Long, loud, sustained applause. No booing. No catcalls.

Winner and still champion, Bob Dylan.

No Direction Home



Martin Scorsese made me nostalgic for three weeks ago!

Over the past three nights I’ve watched No Direction Home, the almost three-hour documentary about Bob Dylan’s life up to mid-1966. It is a brilliant documentary – I would recommend it even to people who are not fans of Bob Dylan. Yes, it is hagiographic, but that is the brief of projects like this one, so it’s hard to blame it for that. The speed with which Dylan arrived on the scene, became a star, took over, and then betrayed it is rather breathtaking, particularly when it is reduced to three hours. It’s sometimes hard to comprehend over the five weeks I’ve been doing this. I will say, watching him sing – in crisp clear film – some of his earlier material made me wish I was listening again to 1963 and 1964. I miss them already! Oh well, onward.

Scorsese hooks the documentary around Dylan’s 1966 tour of Europe, which was mostly England, but also stops in Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, and France. This tour was filmed by D. A. Pennebaker for a sequel to Dont Look Back, which wound up being Eat the Document, which wound up never being released (though you can watch it on YouTube, as I pointed out the other day). Scorsese rescues all of this footage, and repurposes it for the film that Pennebaker probably should have made forty-five years ago. He also borrows heavily on Murray Lerner’s Festival, which is the basis for The Other Side of the Mirror. Basically, Scorsese is able to cut two previous films together to make this film, and then he adds a lot of great archival footage, plus new interviews with Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, Peter Yarrow, Pete Seeger, Maria Muldaur, Suze Rotolo, you get the idea.

One of the most remarkable things about this film is how much footage of Dylan exists. He is one of the first important artists of the era of the handheld movie camera, and he was just so thoroughly documented from 1963 onward. There is no film footage of the coffee house Dylan, but almost everything after that is out there to be seen – not simply everything he ever sang at Newport over a three year period, but so much of his tours in 1965 and 1966. There is a vast mountain of Dylan footage for Scorsese to cull from, and he does so extremely well.

The portrait of Dylan is very thorough. Scorsese isn’t afraid to take his time. He doesn’t even land a record deal until 70 minutes into the film – they spend a lot of time on his early life, his time in Minneapolis, and early days in New York. The footage of Greenwich Village really helped make that history more clear in my mind, even as there were some details that were rushed (including Dylan’s break with the organized political left, which is a much more elaborate story than is told here). The film is very much about the public Dylan. While two of his former lovers give current interviews (Rotolo and Baez), I don’t think Rotolo is identified as his ex- except in passing, and Baez barely talks about their relationship (she calls him “a special friend” at one point). Sara Lownds, Dylan’s first wife, is not mentioned at all – you would have no sense from the film that he was married during his UK tour in 1966.

The film constantly moves back and forth between a chronological march through Dylan’s career and footage from the 1966 tour. How brutal that must have been. While Dylan and the Hawks were playing the best music he had ever produced up to that point in his life, the crowds were absolutely terrible. It is one thing to read about the booing, but another again to witness its ferocity. The hostility was overwhelming, and Dylan was clearly crumbling. Some of the footage in the final minutes showing a completely strung out Dylan virtually begging to go home are tough to watch. This is a man who had been through an emotional wringer. He was twenty-five years old, he’d just had his first child, his crowds were fighting him, and he looked absolutely mentally and physically exhausted. A few months later, as the film notes, he would crash his motorcycle and retreat from public view, not touring for eight years (which is really going to cut down on my bootleg listening for the next two months, I can assure you).

One of the highlights of the film is the contemporary interview with Dylan. He seems honest, or about as honest as you expect Dylan might be able to be. He’s reflective, and he’s not playing games any longer.

The other highlight, for me, was the film footage of the “Royal Albert Hall” version of “Like a Rolling Stone”. I’ll write more about this later today, but let me just say that I watched this documentary when it aired on PBS in 2005. At that time I had no idea that that footage existed and it literally gave me goosebumps. It did again last night.

Great job, Marty!