The Donovan Concert: Live in L.A.
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2008, Volume 15, #1
Written by John Metzger
Wed January 16, 2008, 07:00 AM CST
When he took the stage at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre in January 2007, Donovan looked considerably older than his familiar public image. It’s understandable, of course. Nearly 40 years have passed since he last stood at the pinnacle of pop music. For a time, though — specifically between his appearance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, the same event at which Bob Dylan went electric, and the issuance of his 1969 endeavor Barabajagal — it seemed as if he could do no wrong. Not only did he achieve wide-sweeping commercial success by scoring a number of Top 20 albums and singles, but he also traveled to India with The Beatles, Mia Farrow, and The Beach Boys’ Mike Love and recorded with Cream’s Jack Bruce, the Jeff Beck Group, and future Led Zeppelin members John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. As the Vietnam War raged and the presiding mood of Western society became darker, angrier, and more pragmatic, however, Donovan struggled to retain an audience for his utopian ideas. After his independently released effort Lady of the Stars fell upon deaf ears in 1984, he momentarily slipped into retirement.
On several occasions during the past decade, Donovan has attempted to mount a comeback of sorts, and, truth be told, the world needs to hear his voice now more than ever. Yet, despite having crafted two sterling efforts — the hypnotic Sutras and the heady Beat Café — he remains underappreciated and ignored by all but his biggest fans. In this regard, his latest effort The Donovan Concert: Live in L.A., which features his performance at the Kodak Theatre, is meant both to increase his profile in anticipation of a new album and to raise awareness of the work of the David Lynch Foundation, an organization that strives to teach Transcendental Meditation techniques as a means of achieving world peace.
With a gleam in his eye and bearing the impish look of an all-knowing mystical prophet, Donovan launched into a reggae-tinged rendition of There Is a Mountain. As the show progressed, the years that had passed since his heyday slowly began to fade away. With the exception of his daughter Astrella Celeste’s Dream and his own The Illusion, which he described as a work-in-progress, Donovan wound his way through a set list that surprisingly was composed entirely of material that he wrote in the 1960s. Although he avoided performing songs from Beat Café, he nonetheless echoed its overriding theme by weaving his music together with tales that highlighted how he came to adopt his Bohemian lifestyle.
Backed by upright bass player Tom Mansi and percussionist Stewart Lawrence, Donovan fully immersed himself in his folk-oriented roots. Carried by the gentle flow of his acoustic guitar and harmonica accompaniments, Catch the Wind was suitably tranquil and lovely, while Colours blossomed in a bluegrass-tinged arrangement that simultaneously begged to be adorned with fiddle and mandolin. Some of his psychedelic excursions, such as Sunshine Superman, didn’t translate completely into the stripped-down settings that he evoked, but more often than not, he and his supporting cast overcame the obstacles with their enthusiasm. Season of the Witch, for example, was fitted with a rolling, Afro-Cuban beat, while Hurdy Gurdy Man regained the lost verse that had been penned by George Harrison. Over the course of the evening, Donovan provided the assembled crowd with an engaging, retrospective stroll through all of his best-known tunes, and The Donovan Concert: Live in L.A. dutifully recreates the magic in all its paisley-hued glory. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box