To the casual listener it might be difficult to believe the American folk icon Bob Dylan has had a career past the 1960s. Countless deluxe reissues, box sets, biographies and Rolling Stone articles have reduced an over 50 year career into an isolated span of seven years between the release of his 1962 eponymous debut and his Johnny Cash guesting “Nashville Skyline.”
While it isn’t wholly inaccurate to say some of the best work in his career did happen during that stretch, the constant exploitation of this period, and the subsequent cold-shoulder that every other chapter of his half-century career has been given, is as perplexing as it is insulting. Now, less than half a year since his last relic of the 1960s was released — “The Bootleg Series Vol.9: The Witmark Demos,” another live recording of Dylan from this period is getting a release with “In Concert: Brandeis University 1963.”
Recorded at the alpha liberal arts university Brandeis, “In Concert…” holds up much better as a historical document than as an actual live performance: Two weeks after the recorded performance, Dylan would release his sophomore album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” to an unsuspecting world, and the myth of the counter-culture icon would quickly surpass his artistic output.
The night’s seven song set-list is largely unremarkable, featuring six early Dylan originals and an excerpt of his take on blues-forebearor Henry Thomas’ “Honey Won’t You Allow Me One More Chance.” But the lack of a dynamic set-list can be largely attributed to the lack of original Dylan cuts that existed at that point in time.
The always fierce “Masters of War” is performed in all of its slow-burning folk grind, capturing Dylan at his most decisively prophetic: “When the death count gets higher/You hide in your mansion/As young people’s blood/Flows out of their bodies.“ But the gravity of the recording can be squarely placed upon the general brilliance of the song itself and not upon the night’s performance. Countless live recordings of “Masters of War” from around this period have been released previously, and if not for the subtle vocal inflections and chord variations it would be difficult for most listeners to differentiate between the version from “In Concert…” to any others in an already deep field of releases.
The largest challenge for the album is the nearly impossible feat of trying to standout among an already crowded field of 1960s Dylan-time capsules. While the recording quality of the performance is incredible given its 48 year shelf-life, the content will leave anyone who isn’t a Dylan completest with an inescapable sense of déjà vu.