Given the deserved attention paid to the U.K. leg of Bob Dylan's epochal 1966 tour with the Hawks, it's easy to forget that a month earlier the tour wound its way to Australia, culminating with an April 13 appearance at Sydney Stadium. The two-disc bootleg release Tales of a Mexican Painter captures the show in its entirety, and despite critical limitations hampering the original analog soundboard tapes, this is essential listening for serious Dylan enthusiasts. Per tour protocol, the first half features a solo acoustic performance while the second half comprises an electric performance backed by the Hawks. The contrast between the luminous beauty of the former and the muscular force of the latter is stunning, and it's clear the collaboration with the future Band has reached maximum velocity, highlighted by a dark, eerie rendition of "Ballad of a Thin Man" that may represent the song's apotheosis. However, Dylan's forceful vocals suffer from considerable popping (a problem resulting from the windscreen on his microphone), a distraction that is virtually impossible to ignore. Still, every note of the 1966 tour is worth hearing, and with its striking package, Tales of a Mexican Painter is an edition of this much-bootlegged material that's well worth seeking out.
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