Dylan stands alone in greatness with new bootleg release

Standing alone before an enormous crowd at New York’s Philharmonic Hall October 31, 1964, 23-year-old Bob Dylan said, “Don’t let that scare you,” false-starting on “If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Gotta Stay All Night).” The concert is now available to the public for the first time as the sixth volume of his Bootleg Series.

Bob Dylan was in rare form when he took the stage at Lincoln Center that night. “It’s just Halloween,” he tuned his guitar, laughing boyishly. “I’ve got my Bob Dylan mask on.” The audience burst into applause. “I’m masquerading.” The trumpeted hero of the folk movement in transition, Dylan had first made a name for himself as a literate, political musician, king of the protest song and heir apparent to Woody Guthrie in 1962 when his first album was released.

His reputation had only grown since then. Three new albums had proven him to be a versatile songwriter, as well-known for “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” a story pulled from the newspapers about a kitchen maid killed by a wealthy Baltimore socialite, as he was for the deeply personal love songs that populated such albums as 1963’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.”

The very fact that Dylan, the new hero of the hipsters and beatniks in Greenwich Village, performed that night at the posh new Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) all the way up to 65th Street, served as a testament to his immense popularity.

However, at the same time that Dylan reigned from downtown Manhattan, the Beatles invaded and Dylan was listening. His folk roots were already expanding. The three new songs he played that night, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Gates of Eden,” which would appear on his 1965 album “Bringing It All Back Home,” were bizarre lyrical jaunts, a move away from the potent political and social songs for which he was known.

“This is called ‘It’s Alright, Ma, It’s Life and Life Only,'” Dylan said of the new piece at the concert. After laughter greeted him, he laughs right back, “Yes, it’s a very funny song.”

The following year, a new Dylan would be born, with his classic folk songs being stabbed out by ragged edges of electricity, a move no one saw coming and for which no one was prepared.

This recording presents a confident, affable Bob Dylan. For such a small man standing alone, his presence is immensely powerful. His voice rings out like some proud bell, giving excellent performances of such early classics as “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “Who Killed Davey Moore?,” another of his songs pulled straight from the newspapers about a boxer killed in the ring by his opponent. “This was taken out of the newspapers,” Dylan said. “Nothing has been changed . except the words.”

Between the strong performances he joked with the audience, impish, laughing unselfconsciously as he switched harmonicas and retuned his guitar. He seemed entirely comfortable with his audience, singing “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” playfully, after forgetting the words.

“Hey,” he called to the crowd, “Does anyone know the first verse of this song?” Some wonderful New York voices yelled it back and Dylan picked the song up again, laughing. “This is the same song . same song, only started now.”

Another folk icon of the time, Joan Baez, joined Dylan onstage for four songs at the end of the second half, performing a wonderful, harmonious version of “Mama, You Been On My Mind” (Baez substituted, adorably, ‘Daddy’). Their voices blended richly.

Dylan closed the show with the irreverent “All I Really Want To Do,” he crooned, high pitched, “All I really want to do, is baby be friends with you,” as if directly to the audience. They truly did seem to be friends that night. He leveled with the people, laying before them everything that he had come to be before turning towards rock and roll.