Four decades after it took place, the Halloween concert of 1964 finally sees a proper release. It proves to be another remarkable document from Dylan's extensive bootleg catalog. To truly appreciate this release, the listener must realize what was going on at the time. Dylan was still the raggedy folk messiah, reasonably sober, comical, and lighthearted. No one could have guessed the direction he would turn in just a few short months. This is Dylan before his hair grew wild, before his cheeks sunk from the drugs, and before he became the lonesome sparrow. This is the calm before the whirlwind touring and recording. This is before he became the cynical, embittered, zombie Dylan. Like many Halloween nights, it was haunting to a degree. Perhaps it was the ghost of electricity quietly getting settled.
Dylan performed a good mix of songs from the albums he had released up to that point, as well as some non-album gems like the humorous and Sullivan-banned "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues," "Who Killed Davey Moore?," and the straightforward "It You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got To Stay All Night)." Dylan was not yet tired of his older songs; he sang them with zest and power. A few months later, this would not be the case, which makes these renditions even more poignant and memorable.
Amidst these certifiable tunes, Dylan sprinkled in some new material. The audience was silenced by the unexpected, surrealistic imagery of "Gates of Eden." Employing an almost punk rock snarl in his singing, Dylan displayed slate-faced seriousness for the duration of the song. Prior to starting "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," Dylan assured the audience: "Yes, it's a very funny song," and chuckled. Near the end of this number, Dylan stumbled, giggled, and corrected himself. This mistake could've easily gone unnoticed; but instead, Dylan chose to fix it, showing us how important he believed the words to be.
As expected, the packaging is stunning. With rare photos and insightful liner notes by Sean Wilentz, you really become engaged in the recording. This performance, if anything, proves Dylan's early mastering of crowd control. He holds the audience in a vice-grip throughout, matching wits with hilarious comebacks. Dylan even makes forgetting his lyrics look smooth and acceptable, as he does at the beginning of "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)." This is Dylan at the top of his game, plotting silently in his head, prepared to abandon his safe zone and conquer new grounds. Sometimes it seems undeniably prophetic: "And if my thought-dreams could be seen/ They'd probably put my head in a guillotine."
1. The Times They Are A-Changin'
2. Spanish Harlem Incident
3. Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues
4. To Ramona
5. Who Killed Davey Moore?
6. Gates of Eden
7. If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Got To Stay All Night)
8. It's Alright Ma, (I'm Only Bleeding)
9. I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)
10. Mr. Tambourine Man
11. A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
1. Talkin' World War III Blues
2. Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
3. The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
4. Mama, You Been On My Mind
5. Silver Dagger
6. With God On Our Side
7. It Ain't Me, Babe
8. All I Really Want to Do