Album Review

Bob Dylan performs new material

Bob Dylan

Live At The Gaslight

Columbia

Release Date: October 1st, 1962

Words by: Roland Ellis
October 12th, 2012

9.0

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"Sometimes there's a man, I won't say a hero 'cause what's a hero…? But sometimes there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place–he fits right in there…"

It seems strange to draw a comparison between Bob Dylan and Geoff Lebowski, but is there really a better way of describing him when all is said and done? Dylan, like 'the dude', was the right man for the right time and place. His political and social conscience as coupled with his (initially) folk/DIY ethos, arrived at the perfect moment in history—amidst the rampant paranoia surrounding communism, the looming threat of a world-ending nuclear crisis, the American civil rights movement, the potential game changer that was the Kennedy administration. It would be fair to say then that the stench of revolution hung heavy in the air. Which way that worm would turn (global annihilation or liberation) was yet to play out, but right in the middle of this period of American uncertainty/insecurity came Bob Dylan, and never would his arrival have been more poignant.

Bob Dylan performs new material

One of the watermark moments of the entire era occurs in the first six minutes and forty two seconds of this album. 'A hard rains a gonna fall' is given its first (recorded) public airing here. It's what could be called the song of a life time, and arguably Dylan's greatest achievement. That's contentious given that it has been a career jam packed with tunes that any songwriter would kill to have written, but still, this tune possesses an almost sermon-on-the-mound type quality that Dylan would arguably never quite reach again.

"I'll tell it and show it and think it and breath it… And I'll reflect from the mountain so all souls can see it… And I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinking… But I'll know my song well before I start singing… And it's a hard rains a gonna fall."

It seems strange to draw a comparison between Bob Dylan and Geoff Lebowski, but is there really a better way of describing him when all is said and done?

I mean, who could write something like that without having undergone some sort of divine intervention, really? A year earlier he was just another ragamuffin living in the village and not even writing his own songs, then all of a sudden he's on stage at the Gaslight delivering Milton/Thomas/Ginsberg quality verse to an audience that undoubtedly would have had their jaws on the floor in the realization that their great prophet had somehow arrived. It's incredible stuff. What's also great about this version is that the tune is still clearly in development. Dylan fumbles with some of the chord changes and he sounds uncertain about the lyrics and phrasing at times. He would obviously go on to tweak these things on the studio version, but it's nonetheless interesting to hear the song in a more primitive state.

'Rocks and gravel' moves the record into the more haunting delta blues type vein, and it clearly imparts this atmosphere on the silent audience throughout. Another iconic Dylan ballad, 'Don't think twice its all right,' receives a more heavy handed treatment than would be the case on the later album version here. The anxiously fast guitar playing gives the impression that the track had only just been written, and thankfully Bob would go on to develop it into the slower finger-picked classic on The Freewheelin' record. Again though, it's great to be able to hear a Dylan song presumably just after it had been written.

'Moonshiner' gives us a great indication of how Dylan had developed in terms of both his guitar playing and singing in the six months since the recording of his first studio album. However, the greenness and uncertainty of that first record hasn't yet entirely vanished here. 'Barbara Allen' still finds Bob adopting a more clean and countrified accent than sounds natural, and it stands to show that he perhaps still had another six months worth of developing to do before he would fully discover his own musical identity on 'The Freewheelin''.

If we are to take away one thing from this record though it has to be 'A hard rains a gonna fall.' I like to imagine the faces in the room when that song was ringing out. Witness to an apparition type faces, all contorted into a range of mystified question marks. The odd looking little guy on stage is other-worldly, he's not happening in the everyday sense of it. He's Woody Guthrie and God and Ali and Dr King and Kennedy all rolled into one. He's the man for his time and place.

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