Saturday, March 07, 2009

Album of the Day #143: ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL - Bob Dylan & The Band

Location: Wooton, Isle Of Wight, England

Artist: Bob Dylan, The Band
Label: (yet to be fully released)
Recorded: August 31, 1969
Songs: She Belongs To Me/I Threw It All Away/Maggie’s Farm/Wild Mountain Thyme/It Ain’t Me Babe/To Ramona/Mr. Tambourine Man/I Dreamed I Sat St. Augustine/Lay Lady Lay/Highway 61 Revisited/One Too Many Mornings/I Pity The Poor Immigrant/Like A Rolling Stone/I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight/Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)/Minstrel Boy/Rainy Day Women #12 & 35
Written by: Bob Dylan ("Wild Mountain Thyme": traditional, arr. by Bob Dylan)
Thoughts: In 1969, Dylan agreed to appear at the Isle Of Wight rock festival. It had been three years since he toured and it would be another four years before he would tour again. This made the Isle Of Wight show more important, because it would be the only show he would perform between 1966 and 1974.
Historical importance aside, how is the show itself? Well, the Band appears to be spot on and Dylan, singing his only live show with the Nashville Skyline voice, is pretty on top of things. It's amazing how Dylan changed all these songs to fit the format of a show he knew was just a one-off. He knew he wasn't going to use the show as a kick-off for a tour, so why did he spend so much time coming up with new arrangements for these songs? He even cut down most songs to under three minutes, making the 17-song show run less than an hour. The most drastic cuts come during his acoustic set. After the Band runs through frantic versions of "She Belongs To Me", "I Threw It All Away" and "Maggie's Farm", Dylan goes solo with an amazing take on "Wild Mountain Thyme", one of just four acoustic songs he will do. It is followed by a full "It Ain't Me Babe" then by a short version of "To Ramona" (cut from 3:52 on Another Side to just over two minutes) and a substantially cut up "Mr. Tambourine Man" (cut from 5:30 on Bringing It All Back Home to barely three took him almost nine minutes to do it during the '66 tour). Granted, he plays the tracks wonderfully, giving them a unique sound with the new voice, but it would have been nice to hear the whole song. The rest of the show even features shortened tracks.
My personal favorite track is the insane, rolling "Highway 61 Revisited". This arrangement, like all of the others here, would never be performed again. The best part of it is Levon Helm's drumming, which is thankfully audible over Robbie Robertson's screeching guitar. Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel's piano and keyboards on the track are also great. Helm's drumming throughout the show is spectacular, especially during "Like A Rolling Stone". It is also worth noting that Dylan performed three songs that had yet to be released. They are the after mentioned "Wild Mountain Thyme", the Basement Tapes song "Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" and "Minstrel Boy". The latter two would be released on Self-Portrait along with the show opener "She Belongs To Me" and "Like A Rolling Stone".
As for the rest of the show, it has never been released and can only be found on bootlegs, all of which are reported to have terrible sound. I would still seek it out. The problem may lie in the fact that it was poorly recorded, which is probably it. Robertson's guitar sounds distorted throughout, Rick Danko's bass is practically invisible and Dylan's vocals do get muffy. "I Pity The Poor Immigrant" even sounds inaudible.
It is a great listen, though, of, perhaps, an opening show to a tour that never was.

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