Put the Boot In: Bob Dylan and the Hawks – Live In Hartford October 30, 1965 – ‘No Need to be Nervous’

by | Jan 3, 2021 | 0 comments

Following Dylan’s legendary electric set at the Newport Folk
Festival on July 25, 1965, Dylan set forth to find a permanent rock and roll
backing band to disseminate his vision. The concerts that took place from the summer of 1965 through May
of 1966 are some of the most legendary and destructive rock and roll concerts
in music history. The combination of imagery and electricity accumulated into a
new music, the ‘thin wild mercury sound’. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion
(and others) this developed conglomerate changed the direction of rock music
and really has never been topped. Groups just weren’t doing things like this!
In addition to the revolution in music was the combative audiences, antiquated
equipment and bouncing around the globe on a diet of hotel food, drugs and
groupies!

Today in the ‘rock room’ I am enjoying a distant, chopped up,
wavy and aurally challenging field recording from October 30, 1965. These are
the moments that the ‘rock room’ lives for. A tattered magnetic tape
immortalizing a historic moment. That being said, this recording is not going
to be for everybody. Put on your ‘bootleg ears’ and tune in. This particular evening
can be looked at as the connective tissue strung between Newport and the Royal
Albert Hall in May of 1966. This available recording from Hartford is one of
only a handful that features the entire ‘Hawks’ line up as soon after this aforementioned  performance Levon Helm would leave the group until mid 1967. If you are willing to search you can find a copy of this show, there is also a streaming version available via the usual channels (I have included a link here). It has also been ‘officially’ released to those who purchased the ‘Cutting Edge’ big blue box in 2015 where the 1965 tour was included as a bonus in mp3 format.

There are other recordings available for the ‘rock room’ to
peruse from this era, but there are enough unique moments contained within this
one to share it with my fellow ‘rockers’. The September Hollywood Bowl tape is
a soundboard, and the two December shows recorded by Allen Ginsberg are
stunning, though not featuring Levon in the group. While this show because of
sonic anomalies falls down the list of ‘must have’s’ in the Dylan canon, it
also spotlights historically essential music and a rare set of songs.

The concert and the tape begins with ‘She Belongs to Me’ and
the ambiance of the Bushnell Auditorium is discernable on the recording. The
crowd is attentive and the fidelity is reasonable as Dylan sings a sparkling
opening track. A Mr. Jim La Clair posted his recollections of the Harford show
online as he attended and had front row seats for the concert. He notes in his
remembrance a ‘dynamic tension’ in the air as the concert took place as well as
noting the piles of electric gear littering the stage. La Clair also notes that
when Dylan took the stage for the opening acoustic set ‘he seemed to emit an
aura that was otherworldly’, ‘standing in the light just a few feet from my
seat he seemed so fragile, like a porcelain doll’. It is also remembered that
while there were only a few cat calls during the previous evening’s performance
in Vermont which La Clair attended as well; in Harford things were a bit more
edgy.

Following unfortunately truncated recordings of ‘To Ramona’
and ‘Gates of Eden’ comes a full version of ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’. Typical to this era, the crowd is in rapt silence hanging by their fingertips on each of Dylan’s words. While distant, Dylan’s voice reverberates around the hall, weaving a fantastic version of this Bringing It All Back Home song. Of special note is the usually fabulous harp solo mid way through the song.

Only short snippets of ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ are on the tape. A poignant harp starts ‘Love Minus Zero’  which ends way to quickly and leaves me wanting more. The acoustic set then concludes with an upbeat and briskly strummed ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. This song would too become elongated and stretched like warmed candy by the time it reached Europe. Here it still retains its folk elements but tinged with it’s stony imagery to which the performances would soon match. Dylan’s harp spots are again an obvious highlight.

The electric set starts with a rare extended ‘Tombstone
Blues’ a song that would soon be replaced by ‘Tell Me Mama’ when the tour
touched Europe. Someone near the taper identifies the song as ‘Subterranean
Homesick Blues’ in error. Their exchanges will be audible throughout the
recording. Here, Robertson’s guitar is screaming and he locomotives behind the
granite foundation of the Hawks rhythm section. Dylan’s vocals are clear and
his is in full ‘Highway 61’ throat.

Unfortunately both Manuel’s piano and Danko’s
bass play hide and seek on the circulating tape. Regardless, the on stage
energy is tangible. Dylan continually spits out verses like a sour lemon with
extra emphasis on lines like, ‘Jack the Rippahh’! Prior to Robertson’s first
solo, Garth Hudson firehoses an audible multicolored wash across the stage to
which Robertson responds aggressively. I swear I can hear a girl near the
recorder remark, ‘You didn’t tell me about this’. ‘This’, being the 180 decibel
rock and roll machine on the stage I would assume! The group reaches a steamy
and rolling boil by the cuts conclusion with applause of approval rolling in
from the audience.

‘Baby, Let Me Follow You Down’ comes next, a song well
entrenched in Dylan’s career at this point and a song that would remain in
stage sets throughout the end of the 1966 tour. A groovy harp introduction
starts things off with Danko thumping out his bass line soon after. Dylan sings
here in a chilled ‘folky’ style for lack of a better term, as by 66 he would be
howling out this track. The Hawks sparkle here even with the lack of fidelity,
with Helm’s detailed touch lending a loose swing to the proceedings. Hudson,
Manuel and Robertson each take a solo segment with Manuel’s piano bobbing out
of the wash on the tape to great effect. Smokin!

Only a brief fragment of ‘Just like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ is
available on the recording before cutting off. ‘Maggie’s Farm’ then follows in
a rare mid 1960’s electric reading. The song starts off with Dylan and his lone
jangly guitar before the band kicks their shovel into the soil and gets to working.
The song is careening on the edge of high tempo electrified madness. The ‘Hawks’
swoop in for their prey shredding everything in their way. Dylan raps cool and
collected as the group swirls the instrumentation into a silvery honky tonk
groove. Right now at this moment, this is the best band on the planet. Hudson
answers Dylan with alien melodies, Danko and Helm bounce rhythms and counter
rhythms against the back wall of the arena.
Through Robertson’s piercing solo he and Manuel match gaudy R and B
riffing excitedly; at this point I am so far into this recording I feel like
moving matter in preparation for time travel. The band comes to a hard stop
that cuts just prior to the tape. Wow.

An early standard of the Dylan and the Hawks sets but gone
by the 66 World Tour is ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, originally off of Dylan’s Another Side of Bob Dylan record.  This is another one of those, ‘It used to go
like that, now it goes like this’ moments. Beginning with a start and stop
arrangement, Dylan and Hawks enter into an attentive but aggressive rendition
to the crowd’s collaborative applause. The middle eight develops a direct rock
stomp, dressed with Manuel’s staccato piano, prior to opening wide for the substantial
chorus where the sky is revealed. On this particular track I am very happy with
the balance of all the instruments and vocals; less volume on stage in this
case assists with the value of the recording. Following the opening lyrics the ‘Hawks’
run through an beautiful instrumental verse and chorus before Dylan soars in with
harmonica for another pass before returning to the ‘melt back into the night’
verse. A wonderful performance of this Dylan classic.

When the tape cuts back the crowd is yelling something about
‘rock’ and then scattered shouts of ‘folk music’ rain down. Dylan plays the
opening chords to ‘Ballad of the Thin Man’ to a mixture of applause and jeers.
A steady and sly ‘Thin Man’ thumps up tempo through verse one before the tape
cuts and the rest is lost in the foggy ruins of time.

Some giggling and crowd ambiance is caught before another relative
rarity follows with ‘Positively Fourth Street’. The song had been released as a
US single the previous month on September 7th, 1965 so the crowd was
familiar with the cut as there is substantial applause as it begins. I don’t know
how to explain it but this track contains it all. The vibe, the sound, the
groove and Dylan and the Hawks peaking combines to place me square on my butt
in the middle of a venue from the past. Dylan’s singing is perfection, every
inflection an additional layer to the songs sneering put downs. He bobs and
weaves while pulling out the emotion of the lyrics like a blood draw. The Hawks
are a crisp as fall in the mountains, Hudson plays a mirror of the signature lick while
Robertson laces up some well-timed filigrees.

The tape and concert concludes with ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Those familiar with this period know that by the time Dylan hit Europe the live versions of this song had become bombastic. Here, Dylan and the band are playing well but have not yet haunted the performances with that extra smudge of voodoo. Unfortunately the recording also contains a number of drop out’s and speed variations by this point in the tape.

For students and ‘rock geeks’ of Dylan, the period immortalized by this recording is legendary in scope and myth. Dylan and the Hawks (later the Band) took on and developed a new and different combination of lyric and song. They performed the music to diverse and defiant audiences around the globe. Patience is key when enjoying when a field recording of this prominence, but the riches that reveal themselves with careful concentration are worth the wait.

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