Cat Powers Placates The Ghosts Of Bob Dylan’s Brilliant But Troubled “Royal Albert Hall” Performance

56 years after the event, on Guy Fawkes’s evening 2022, Cat Power recreated the night Bob Dylan blew the roof off the Manchester Free Trade Hall in May 1966. This was, of course, Dylan’s legendary “Judas” concert; which was known for years as the Royal Albert Hall Concert, due to the mislabelling of a bootleg of the performance.

It has become common for artists to perform their LPs in the original track order, cover bands that specialise in one group or album are plentiful, and compilations with various groups recreating a classic album are abundant. This concert was something else; an established artist presuming to recreate Dylan’s most seminal rock concert. Over to Chan Marshall:

Cat Power is the stage name of Chan Marshall, an experimental folk performer who found popular acclaim in 2006 with the release of her Southern soul-influenced album, The Greatest. This album was a departure for Marshall, as it featured a full band sound, acclaimed session musicians, and a more polished production.

Rolling Stone Magazine rated Changes (her 7th record) the 6th best album of 2006. Her most recent LP, her 11th, Covers, 2022, has been well received (and includes a Bob Dylan cover).

Dylan played Manchester the day after the release of Blonde on Blonde, which many critics consider to be his best LP. It was also the highpoint of the resistance to his move away from acoustic protest folk towards more personal songs and, blasphemously, to a full rock sound.

For his World Tour Dylan started with an acoustic set, then brought on his band. The audience would start making its disapproval evident, which only spurred Dylan on. The “Judas” heckle encapsulated the tension of the tour.

Bob Dylan’s backing band was The Hawks, later to become famous as The Band. The World Tour, from February to May 1966, started in North America. Levon Helm, the leader and the drummer of The Hawks, left the tour after only two concerts on account of the intensity of the hostility of the audiences to the electric part of Dylan’s shows. Helm would only re-join his bandmates in October 1967, which was fortunate as The Band became an important group, and Levon Helm was integral to its success.

The ferocity of Dylan and The Hawks on The World tour is legendary. Fortunately the Manchester Concert has been released as Volume 4 of Bob Dylan’s Bootleg series under the title Live 1966: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert. Reviewing this record, Rolling Stone Magazine described the performance as an evening of rancour and genius before suggesting that the newly released Blonde on Blonde might not have been “the best new Bob Dylan music you might have heard in that particular week”. High praise indeed. The tour ended with two nights at The Royal Albert Hall. These concerts saw the most walk outs, but Dylan also received vocal support, including from The Beatles. It took until 1974 for Bob Dylan to go on another major tour.

So how did Cat Power do on her one-off “recreation” of Bob Dylan’s “Judas” concert? In its review, published on November 07 2022, The Times’s describes the show as “electric” and the reviewer, Mark Beaumont, gives the show 4 stars out of 5. Beaumont notes that the initial acoustic set suited Marshall better, and that the electric part was less caustically confrontational than the original (as one would expect). Beaumont’s wittiest observation is that Dylan’s songs often benefit from being sung by “voices less resembling a knackered starter motor”. Personally I’m a fan of late period Dylan, especially Love & Theft, so Mr Beaumont and I might need to disagree on that.

Predictably, a wag called out “Judas” during the electric part of Cat Power’s Royal Albert Hall performance. You can see it in the video below:

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