Over the last 30 years, so many articles have been written about the electric portion of the 66 Tour. The hostility of the English fans ("Judas"); the loud sound of the band; the interaction between Dylan and the audience has been well documented in books and on fan sites.
Lost in this literary shuffle is the brilliance of the first set of acoustic Dylan that opened every show. Each night, Bob would face the audience alone with his guitar and harmonica. The genius of these solo sets can be heard on the official release (The Bootleg Series Vol 4) as well as on many bootlegs including the definitive Genuine Live 1966.
Listening to these songs now, I am struck by the complexity of the lyrics in the set list: Fourth Time Around, Visions of Johanna, Desolation Row and Mr Tambourine Man. These are all classic Dylan compositions, that are full of incredible words. Of all the songs in the Dylan catalogue, these have to be some of the most difficult to perform. For Dylan to come out every night and nail these songs is the sign of a artist at the top of his game.
Much has also been written about the pace of the tour, the drugs and the effect of the lifestyle on Dylan. With this in mind, I think it makes these performances even more remarkable. Without the band, there must have been incredible pressure on Dylan to deliver these songs. If you listen to the recordings, you should agree that he passed the audition.
As the tour moved across Australia and Ireland and ultimately ended with seven shows in England and Scotland, Bob usually opened with She Belongs To Me. This was easiest song in terms of the lyrics and was a nice warm up. Next up was Fourth Time Around (appropriate in England because of it's connection to Lennon and Norwegian Wood). With the flow of words in this one, the stakes were getting much higher. Next came Visions of Johnana which always created a spooky air in the hall. You can feel the attention of the audience to this classic Dylan tale of love and loss.
5 and a half minutes of It's All over Now, Baby Blue and over 11 minutes of Desolation Row usually filled the next two slots. Again, these are two songs with a lot of words. The set finished with Just Like A Woman and Mr Tambourine Man. Besides the lyrics in the last song, Bob's harmonica is masterful. Think what any BobCat would give to go back in time and hear that set.
Bootleg Series Vol 4 is available at iTunes and from Amazon. Genuine Live 1966 is available from your local bootlegger. Both are highly recommended.