Live At The Gaslight 1962

Bob Dylan

Columbia/Legacy, 2005

REVIEW BY: Paul King


Back in 1962, the Gaslight café was the premier folk venue in the bohemian MacDougal Street area of New York’s Greenwich Village. The venue had secured its credentials as the preeminent meeting place for the emerging folk crowd a few years earlier when Beat Generation poets like Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso regularly performed poetry readings there. The Gaslight was no “pass the hat for tips” style joint but an elite folk club where only the best of Greenwich Village’s folk singers could hope to perform. The young Bob Dylan would play at the venue a number of times during his early years as a Greenwich Village folkie, often using it as a place to try out new compositions in front of an audience.

The material featured on Live At The Gaslight 1962 was recorded after the release of Dylan’s eponymously titled debut album but before his breakthrough, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and primarily consists of traditional folk and blues songs. Having said that, the album does feature three early performances of Dylan originals in "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," and "John Brown." The first two songs would later appear on Dylan's second album, but the anti-war ballad "John Brown" would remain unreleased until Dylan’s “MTV Unplugged” album appeared in 1995.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” here is an embryonic rendition, strummed instead of finger-picked, with its half-formed lyric containing some noticeable differences to the officially released studio version. Other highlights include "Barbara Allen" and Dylan's own adaptation of Brownie McGhee and Leroy Carr's "Rocks And Gravel." Hardcore Dylan fans will find it fascinating to hear Dylan performing “Rocks And Gravel” from this era, since it was originally slated to appear on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, even turning up on early test pressings of the LP. Here Dylan teases and caresses the song’s melody, stretching out its long, sorrowful notes to such protracted lengths that it almost feels as if they might snap.

Another standout moment on the album is the song “Moonshiner,” in which the 21-year-old Dylan sings from the perspective of a drunken old man at the end of his life. It’s a powerful and utterly convincing rendition, soaked with the liquor stained authenticity that the song demands. Interestingly, in the liner notes of his second album Dylan states that he “ain't that good yet. I don't carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin' Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they're older people.” I have to say, based on the evidence presented here in his masterful rendition of “Moonshiner,” that I beg to differ. 

Live At The Gaslight 1962 is a real delight for Dylan fans. We get to hear Dylan on the verge of greatness, alone on stage with just an acoustic guitar and his own inimitable voice (strangely, there’s no harmonica playing on the album at all.) What makes these performances all the more important for Dylanologists is that they represent the last time for many years that Dylan would be captured publicly performing non-original folk and blues songs.

The sound quality on the album is pretty reasonable, too, having been recorded on a reel-to-reel tape machine connected to the house PA system. It’s not quite up to recording studio standards of course but it’s still highly listenable. Ultimately, this album may not be an ideal purchase for newcomers to Dylan’s music but Live At The Gaslight 1962 is essential for any serious fan wanting to know more about Bob Dylan the folk song interpreter and performer.

Rating: B-

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