“Don’t let that scare you,” said Bob Dylan, referring to “Gates of Eden,” the song he had just performed at New York’s Philharmonic Half on October 31st. 1964. “It’s just Halloween. I have my Bob Dylan mask on.”
The abstract imagery of “Gates of Eden” — including “Utopian hermit monks” and a “motorcycle black madonna two-wheeled gypsy queen” — didn’t so much frighten as perplex those in the crowd who were accustomed to folk singers delivering protest songs. Dylan had released four albums by then, including the most recent, Another Side of Bob Dylan. Three new songs, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “Gates of Eden” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” wouldn’t appear on record until Bringing It All Back Home in 1965, but on this night Dylan played these almost radical, dense, allusive epics with supreme confidence. Certain lines seemed to anticipate the audience’s uncertainty, as when he sang, “Don’t fear if you hear a foreign sound to your ear,” in “It’s Alright, Ma.” Dylan sounded ripe for the challenge, even exuberant, as he performed on this pivotal evening in his career.
Dylan played nineteen songs in two sets, covering a tremendous amount of ground with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a determined voice. He was outwardly convivial, while provoking with his newer material in the second half of the amazing first set-from “Gates of Eden” through “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” At the same time, he performed finger-pointing protest tunes, including “Who Killed Davey Moore?” and “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” with unabatedly venomous conviction. The second set, featuring four numbers sung in wonderfully ragged close harmony with folk queen Joan Baez, retrospectively looks to be an early farewell from the “old Dylan.” The times they were a-changin’, and you can hear Dylan coming and going, with one foot in each era, on Live 1964.