Monday, September 12, 2016
Donovan: Live at the South Orange Performing Arts Center 9/11/16
Going to see Donovan was going to be somewhat of a crap shoot. Despite being a fan of his 60's music these past 40+ years I am consistently irked by his endless streams of boastfulness and name dropping from both his autobiography from a few years back and subsequent interviews. So bearing this in mind it was with much trepidation that I decided to attend. It's always struck me as rather odd considering the bulk of his work are his own compositions and that he would need resort to the latter, but it seems to have become his forte and possibly his "shtick". My gears are thoroughly ground when these involve The Beatles (more on that later). So boldly I decided to go even though it might have meant gripping the edge of my seat as he once again laid claim to writing a verse in "Yellow Submarine" or retelling how he taught the Beatles how to finger pick in India with the Baba Zeeba or perhaps again claiming he pioneered World Music and invented Celtic rock. As for what to expect musically there was some hope. Though I know he performed the entire "Sunshine Superman" album live in it's original running order in the U.K. a year or so ago with John Cameron as musical director with a full band behind him I was not expecting so much here in America. It was being advertised as "Donovan -Sunshine Superman The 50th Anniversary" so there was a glimmer of hope, however so faint.
My friends and I arrived at the South Orange Performing Arts Theater to see a small riser with a white sheepskin on it and a low microphone in front with a solitary Roland amp behind and an acoustic guitar on the rug. Clearly it was going to be musically sparse evening. No band, certainly no John Cameron and I felt the twinge of regret that we would have an earful of stories, boasts, sparse musical numbers and the inevitable bane of any gig where the audience is 65 and over: the dreaded sing along.
Donovan came on and wasted no time digging into material from his early "denim" period on Pye records (Hickory in the USA), in particular the "Fairytale" LP: "Catch The Wind", "Colours", "Little Tin Soldier", "The Alamo", "Josie", "Donna Donna" and my personal favorite, "The Universal Soldier". All of which were delivered fairly well with much warmth and appreciation from the man for the sold out performance. He then proceeded to tell the tale of Paul McCartney showing up at his flat guitar in hand and singing him an early version of "Eleanor Rigby". Macca, he said, had come to his flat because he was "known for his children's songs" (a whole year plus before his "For Little Ones" album, hmmmmm) and needed help with a tune he was working on called "Yellow Submarine". Donovan stated that he came up with the line "Sky of blue, sea of green...". Well......, okay and then sang a few lines of "Yellow Submarine". He did a subtle but perfect version of "Guinevere" and that was sadly the extent of his "Sunshine Superman" LP offerings, no "The Trip", "Celeste" or "Fat Angel" (there was a rather lack luster "Season Of The Witch" in the second set...) and a whole lot of ramblings about "Celtic" and "Spiritual" etc etc all delivered with these odd awkward pauses which I'm not sure were an affectation or a method of breath control.
Intermission came after the 40 minute first set concluded and he was back with more music and even more stories. There was an amusing story about running from girls in Blackpool while on a bill on the pier with (dig this line up): The Who, The Walker Brothers, The Swingin' Blue Jeans, The Hollies, a stand up comedian and a ventriloquist. He ran into Peter Noone who was running from girls at another gig in town and they shared a joint in the men's public convenience whilst discussing their new found adulation (Peter Noone is amusingly on YouTube telling the same story but says that it was Brighton, check it out here, it's quite funny). He talked about India but luckily no mention of the finger picking (he did say that Beatle George contributed a verse he didn't use on "Hurdy Gurdy Man") . This set was pretty much all the "hits": "Mellow Yellow", "Sunshine Superman", "Season Of The Witch", "Hurdy Gurdy Man", "Lalena", "There Is A Mountain", "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" etc and a tune he says he'll never record about his guitar which like all of his guitars has a girl's name, okayyyyyy. This set was 50 minutes and about half way through little D (Dylan is the "Big D") began encouraging the audience to join in. Maybe he likes it that was because it has a homey, family sing along feel to it or maybe he was tired and wanted someone else to do the singing, we'll never know but it was "all of you over there", "now just the ladies" , "now the fellas in the balcony" etc... I didn't sing or clap, I slunk into my $56 seat and cringed. There's nothing worse than sing along's at gigs in my book. And then it was done. He stood up and bowed, took off his guitar and left the stage (to a thunderous applause I might add) and the lights came up. He was supposed to be out front signing autographs (I bought an autographed pic of him wearing the same jacket as me earlier) so I passed figuring it wasn't worth the wait to ask him what I've wanted to for years: since he seems like a very peaceful and passive fellow how did he feel that his songs were used in rather violent sequences in movies (the first victims of the Zodiac killer to the tune of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" in "Zodiac" and Billy Batz getting stomped to death by Joe Pesci and pals in "Goodfellas" while "Atlantis" plays on)? Instead we repaired to a nearby pub for a pint and a decompress and debrief on the evenings entertainment.