The Brixton Box 2005 (Crystal Cat CC 787-796)
The five shows Dylan performed at the Brixton Academy were released last December 14th over two titles on the Trial label. From Bash To Clash (Trial-087) is a six cdr set covering the Birmingham show on November 18th and the first two Brixton concerts on November 20th and the 21st. Blackness Was A Virtue (Trial-088) is the second six cdr set covering the final three London shows on November 22nd, 23rd, and 24th.
Besides being insanely limited (20 copies each and selling out almost immediately) and utilizing the cdr format, the results looked like a rush job that left considerable room for improvement. The tapes for these five concerts are fair to good but could have been much better. It was hoped that the Crystal Cat label, who have consistently released stellar sounding product, would handle Dylan’s run in London and give it the presentation it deserved.
The Brixton Box 2005 is therefore one of the most anticipated bootleg releases of the year and it doesn’t disappoint. The overall impression of this set is that it meets the very high standard set by the label. The tapes used by Crystal Cat easily exceed the corresponding tapes used by Trial and are some of the best tapes circulating from all of 2005.
Not all of the tapes are of equal quality with some being better than others but this European label has an impressive track record with not only releasing the very best quality tapes but also mastering them much better than their competitors in the far east. The result is that across the board their version of any given show will exceed anything released out of Japan. Another virtue of this label is to pack the discs with tons of bonus material (like the TMR people in Japan do) and they really give one their money’s worth.
Brixton First Evening 2005 (CC 787-788)
Brixton Academy, London, England – November 20th, 2005
Disc 1 (77:03): Intro., Rumble, Drifter’s Escape, Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power), God Knows, To Ramona, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Queen Jane Approximately, ‘Till I Fell In Love With You, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, New Morning, Highway 61 Revisited, Man In The Long Black Coat, Honest With Me
Disc 2 (76:09): Desolation Row, Summer Days, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks: Sing Me Back Home (3/8), Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (3/8), It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (3/14), A-11 (3/14), Folsom Prison Blues (3/18), Saving Grace (4/11), Tough Mama (4/15), Tomorrow Is A Long Time (4/15)
The first night at Brixton Academy on November 20th was covered first by Trial on discs three and four of From Bash To Clash (Trial-087). They used a good and clear but very distant audience source with too much echo.
Brixton First Evening 2005 is a major upgrade being much closer to the stage. Compared to the other tapes in this set this is probably the poorest sounding, rating perhaps an eight out of ten overall. It has some distortion during “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” but is otherwise blemish free. The tape cuts in at the end of Copeland’s “Hoedown” and has the full introduction. The first four of the five nights begin with a minute snippet of the famous instrumental “Rumble” written by Link Wray. This 1958 tune and sets an anticipatory mood of danger and excitement before crashing into “Drifter’s Escape”.
“Highway 61 Revisited” is given a strong swing treatment. “ Queen Jane Approximately” makes it tour debut and is the only version in Europe for 2005. “God Knows” has its only London airing and is sublime. “Desolation Row” has its final performance of the year. Reviewers mention how Dylan at the end of the twelve-minute track making a motion with the harp as if to say “take that!”
The momentum strangely wanes by the end with “Summer Days” sounding subdued. It doesn’t have the party atmosphere and “end of the show” celebration. “Like A Rolling Stone” is dropped in favor of “Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right)” and the second encore is the expected “All Along The Watchtower”.
Brixton Second Evening 2005 (CC 789-790)
Brixton Academy, London, England – November 21st, 2005
Disc 1 (76:35): Intro., Rumble, Maggie’s Farm, The Times They Are A-Changin’, Million Dollar Bash, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Moonlight, Down Along The Cove, Boots Of Spanish Leather, Cold Irons Bound, Mr. Tambourine Man, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Visions Of Johanna, Honest With Me
Disc 2 (76:23): Waiting For You, Highway 61 Revisited, London Calling, Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks: Lenny Bruce (4/16), Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (4/17), I Believe In You (4/17), It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Lot To Cry (4/17), The Wicked Messenger (4/20), To Be Alone With You (4/29), Not Dark Yet (4/29)
The second night was also released on discs five and six of From Bash To Clash (Trial-087) which is a good but very distant complete stereo source. About the only advantage the Trial might have over the Crystal Cat for the second night is the longer intro, a more complete “Hoedown”.
Otherwise the tape on Crystal Cat is closer to the stage and much more clear, although still a bit distant.
This concert is unique for the live debut of three songs. “Million Dollar Bash” was written thirty eight years ago and has never been played live before. I’m not sure if most of the audience recognizes it but those who do react loudly. “Waitin’ For You” is the second and is from the soundtrack to the movie Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (released in 2002 staring Sandra Bullock and almost universally panned by the critics).
“Highway 61 Revisited” is the set closer in place of “Summer Days” and is very intense with extended soloing.
Finally for the first encore, and serving as a prelude to “Like A Rolling Stone”, is a very faithful rendition of the opening and first verse to The Clash’s “London Calling” to a wild response from the audience. This is the third surprise of the evening and the first time Dylan attempts this punk song live.
The first two discs of Blackness Was A Virtue (Trial-088) cover the third show. The tape Trial utilizes is very distant from the stage and is heavily distorted and is perhaps the worst sounding tape in their set. The Crystal Cat has a similar sound quality to the second night of its box set, very clear detailed and powerful.
In comparison of the two big box sets the tapes for this night provide the most dramatic difference and makes one wonder why Trial issued that tape in the first place. The Crystal Cat does pick up some audience conversations in the early part of the show that is minor but present. This is another excellent Crystal Cat tape.
Brixton Third Evening 2005 (CC 791-792)
Brixton Academy, London, England – November 22nd, 2005
Disc 1 (76:47): Intro., Rumble, Maggie’s Farm, Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Lonesome Day Blues, Positively 4th Street, Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine), Cold Irons Bound, Girl Of The North Country, I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met), John Brown, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Mississippi, Highway 61 Revisited
Disc 2 (79:29): Waiting For You, Summer Days, Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks: Po’ Boy (4/30), I’ll Remember You (5/26), Tombstone Blues (6/29), You Win Again (with Willie Nelson) (7/4), Tryin’ To Get To Heaven (7/10), I Shall Be Released (7/16), I Want You (7/20), One Too Many Mornings (7/21), Down In The Flood (10/20)
In the liner notes Toby Richards-Carpenter observes: “For the third night at the Brixton Academy, Bob Dylan gave evidence of his powers of re-invention. Not only was the set-list almost entirely changed again, but also the tone of the show was unique. Gone was the hard-rocking troubadour of Sunday night, and the jokerman of Monday. In terms of Dylan’s performance, Tuesday night was a far more serious affair, although Bob’s stage demeanor was as graceful as ever.”
After the “Rumble”/”Maggie’s Farm” opener he plays a very somber version of “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”. The thoughts in the liner notes are correct as he continues with “Cold Irons Bound”, “Girl Of The North Country” and a brilliant “John Brown”. Like the previous night Dylan plays “Waiting For You” although it is a softer version and even “Summer Days” also sounds more depressing than usual.
Brixton Fourth Evening 2005 (CC 793-794)
Brixton Academy, London, England – November 23rd, 2005
Disc 1 (79:31): Intro., Rumble, Maggie’s Farm, She Belongs To Me, Cry A While, Shelter From The Storm, Down Along The Cove, Positively 4th Street, High Water (For Charley Patton), Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine), Million Miles, Stuck Inside Of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Honest With Me
Disc 2 (77:04): The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, Summer Days, Blue Monday, Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks: Tears Of Rage (10/24), Never Gonna Be the Same Again (10/26), Tangled Up In Blue (10/29), Shooting Star (10/30), You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (10/30), Things Have Changed (11/4), If Dogs Run Free (11/4)
The fourth evening in Brixton is covered on discs three and four of Blackness Was A Virtue (Trial-088). The sound quality is very similar to the others: fair and listenable but distant. It isn’t distorted like the twenty-third but still not the best. Crystal Cat for this date has probably the best sounding of all the tapes in their set.
It is on par with the amazing tape used for Scandinavium 2005. It sounds like a completely different concert when compared to the Japanese version capturing the nuances of the performance. “She Belongs To Me” makes a surprising appearance, being the eight and final performance from last year with a great harp solo by the end. “Shelter From The Storm” (again scarcely played) is given a long and dramatic treatment.
Brixton Fifth Evening 2005 (CC 795-796)
Brixton Academy, London, England – November 24th, 2005
Disc 1 (75:43): Intro., Maggie’s Farm, Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Positively 4th Street, Down Along The Cove, Girl Of The North Country, High Water (For Charley Patton), Just Like A Woman, Highway 61 Revisited, Every Grain Of Sand
Disc 2 (79:36): Honest With Me, Sugar Baby, Summer Days, London Calling, Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower. Bonus tracks: Ring Them Bells (11/6), Can’t Wait (11/6), Simple Twist Of Fate (11/7), This Wheel’s On Fire (11/8), Standing In The Doorway (11/13), My Back Pages (11/13)
The fifth and final evening of Dylan’s residency at the Academy was first released on discs five and six of Blackness Was A Virtue (Trial-088). This is the worst sounding tape used by Trial in their box sets sounding very distant and disturbing. The Crystal Cat by contrast is one of the best sounding in their box set and is the equal to the amazing sounding fourth night. The taper was very close to the stage and is very dynamic and detailed.
The taper was able to capture more of the introduction that usual with Copeland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man” leading into “Hoedown” before the usual introduction. The band skip “Rumble” this night and go straight into “Maggie’s Farm”. Some of the reviews call this show lackluster with an uninspiring set list with “Positively 4th Street” played for the third night in a row. However the show isn’t bad at all and contains the second “London Calling” of the five nights and a great version of “Every Grain Of Sand”.
The bonus tracks are filler that contain tracks from all the tours last year in chronological order. All is very good to excellent quality. The only performance of “Folsom Prison Blues” from the March 18th show in Reno “I Want You” from July 20th Vancouver show. The packaging is beautiful beyond anything that could legitimately be expected from any label. The scans of the artwork don’t do justice to the aesthetic appeal. The outer box is very thick glossy material that houses the jewel cases.
The inserts for the jewel cases contain very informative booklets with reviews of the shows and many pictures surrounding the event. The prose on those pages brings one into the shows as never before and are an excellent touch. Included also is a fold out poster on the same glossy paper with a stage shot on one side and the eye on the other and is again a nice touch. Overall this has to be one of the best box sets released this year and is a no-brainer for the Dylan fan.