Bob Dylan

Western Electric

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Ah, Mr. Judas, I presume. Dylan's third ever electric gig, the Hollywood Bowl gig six weeks after a Newport Festival crowd howled disdain and dismay at his amplified stew, was also his last with the Butterfield Blues Band -- a distinction lost on the CD sleeve, which credits Levon Helm's Hawks as the backing group. The Butterfields were always going to be a tough call for even the most forgiving Dylan apologist: As later recordings from this same era acknowledge, the Band-to-be were far more in tune with Dylan's folky roots. Anyone approaching Western Electric from a place mapped out by the Albert Hall/Manchester tapes, then, is in for a remarkable revision. The group plug in immediately after "Mr Tambourine Man" concludes an excellent acoustic performance and, for a time, they know their place, putting up a spirited, but largely sympathetic accompaniment through an impassioned "I Don't Believe You." "Tom Thumb," too, passes by innocuously enough, but emboldened by the experience (and the vaguely enthusiastic audience reception), "From a Buick Six" is reduced to organ-heavy garage territory, the Mysterions if Question Mark ate a dictionary, while "Maggie's Farm" is positively breakneck boogie time. Ragged in execution, rough in delivery, and raw enough to soothe the most savage punk rock heart, the second half of Western Electric remains as exciting now as it was incendiary back then. Which in turn means it's as close to essential live '60s Dylan as you're going to find, and that includes the officially released documents from later in the era. After all, if that unnamed English heckler thought he was witnessing Judas at work, this show would have left him convinced he was in hell.

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