The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. The article below appears to contain plagiarism, and the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.

“It’s just Halloween — I’ve got my Bob Dylan mask on, I’m masquerading.”

Bob Dylan was always an enigma. On October 31, 1964, to an adoring crowd of faithful followers, Dylan performed at New York City’s most prestigious venue at the time, Philharmonic Hall. The year had been tumultuous for the folk icon: His wife had left him and he had just completed his first national tour, only to return home disenchanted in folk music and preparing to make a sea change into the world of rock’n’roll.

The crowd that attended the performance had the highest expectations for its young poet laureate. As opposed to the figure he would become in later years, Dylan was still seen as the voice of the civil rights, disarmament and anti-war movements in America — an honorable voice of protest.

Bootleg Series 6: Concert at Philharmonic Hall is, thus, more essential than it is perfect. In fact, its imperfections show the openness and comfort with his audience and youth of Dylan more than anything. He appears to be slightly inebriated, forgetting lines, dropping his guitar pick twice (once he stops to pick it up and the other he just continues on without it) and often bursts out in laughter without reason. He appears, on the outside, comfortable with the home crowd after a long year of touring. Conversely, he also seems to be preoccupied with making the turn into more personal, introverted songwriting.

The solo Dylan played stark, powerful renditions of favorites (“The Times They Are A-Changin” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”), political songs (“Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”) and protest songs (“Talkin’ World War III Blues”). The crowd roared when Dylan brought out Joan Baez, the most socially active musician of the time, to accompany him on four songs, including the anti-war diatribe “With God on Our Side.” However what makes Series 6 special is the fact that Dylan, while running through these songs, had one foot firmly placed in the future.

At the time, nobody, including Dylan, knew how much the next year would change him, and that tension surrounds Series 6. In some respect, Dylan had already made his move by the time he walked out into the Philharmonic that night. His Another Side of Bob Dylan had been released five months earlier and included “My Back Pages,” which directly disowned the moral absolutes of the folk and political scenes that had already staked a claim to his writing.

But in another respect, Dylan seemed tentative about progressing in that direction. He played a handful of new songs on Series 6 and introduced them all ad interim or with ironic put-ons, as if he couldn’t quite fix his own intentions, or he doesn’t want to reveal them or how they will affect the relationship with his followers.

“Gates of Eden,” he said, is “a sacrilegious lullaby in D Minor” and “a love song,” while the dour “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is “a very funny song.” The tenor of his comment about wearing a mask, which follows “Gates of Eden,” is almost comforting in this context. He seemed to be reassuring the audience that they could still see him as the person they wanted — for now.

In this context, it’s almost unfathomable to think that 10 months after Series 6 was performed, Dylan would release both Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Both would explode into the folk scene and forever change the rock’n’roll aesthetic. Some of Dylan’s fans would come along with his move to rock; many would denounce him as a Judas, and the atmosphere on Series 6 seems, thus, more poignant than it did at first glance. It’s a snapshot of Dylan’s storied early years at their peak, one idyllic last show before the storm.

Review:  5 out of 5 stars

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