That fact that the CD Bob Dylan in Concert: Brandeis University 1963 (Columbia/Legacy) exists at all is something of a miracle. Dylan's brief but energetic seven-song set as a low-billed performer at the school's folk festival came to light only recently via a battered tape box found in the archives of late music critic Ralph J. Gleason.
Of particular interest to Dylanologists is that the May show was a scant two weeks before the release of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. He only previews one track here - but since it's "Masters of War," one wonders how spellbound he kept his audience.
The murder saga "Ballad of Hollis Brown," which would not see the light of record until the next year's The Times They Are A-Changin', comes across here as strident and powerful, with each chorus bringing impending doom closer until the grisly end.
But it's Dylan's sense of humor that surprisingly comes through loudest on absurdist situations in the "Talkin' Blues" tracks like "John Birch Paranoid Blues" (where the narrator looks for Commies in his toilet bowl), "World War III Blues," and "Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" - the latter involving oversold tickets, a sinking ship, and family food that is never consumed.
So much for relaxing outdoor dining.
Shortly after this show and the release of Freewheelin', Bob Dylan would become "Bob Dylan," a performer with influence and listeners far beyond the insular folk world.
Brandeis University 1963 catches the Bard of Hibbing, alone with harmonica and acoustic guitar, on the edge of something far greater.
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