Category: Archive

Mellow, indeed

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The lowdown: Fresh off writing a tell-all autobiography, Donovan retains his Celtic soul, but struggles to be relevant in today’s atmosphere. A concert that verged on three hours may not have helped.

Donovan took the stage at the church-like Society for Ethical Culture’s Concert Hall last week to all the thunder a mostly-graying population could muster.
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise for the 59-year-old folk artist, but perhaps Donovan was expecting a different audience. He took a risk in nearly alienating the crowd when he explained why he has simultaneously released a book, a boxed set and launched the “Hurdy Gurdy Tour,” in honor of the 40th anniversary since the release of “Catch the Wind,” his breakthrough single.
Sharp ears will know that said song is currently playing in a Volvo commercial that has been airing for some time now, and Donovan didn’t disappoint in taking the chance to poke fun at himself.
“Doesn’t that just want to make you buy a Volvo?” he deadpanned dryly after finishing the song, which he buried in the second half of a long set.
He went on to explain that it’s not the millions of dollars on offer for the rights to use such a song in commercials these days. It’s to open the door for a younger audience to his volumes of work.
The audience, who were still a generally gentle and young-at-heart bunch, loved him and he could do no wrong throughout his marathon set.
Couples swayed in their seats and beards and long hair were de rigueur for the majority of the audience, who braved bitter cold to crowd into the unique concert space.
Joined onstage by a cellist, a keyboardist who also dabbled in saxophone and the flute, a guitarist and drummer, Donovan introduced them one by one, it was not a shock when Donovan announced that he found his backing band in San Francisco.
True to Donovan’s folksy and jazzy style, the musicians had the mellow part down, though they could have used more power at key points, and sometimes it felt like they were simply in the way of Donovan and his music.
Donovan himself alternated between acoustic and electric guitars, bounding about the stage and showing no shortage of energy.
The only thing he seemed to do more than move was to sell himself. He was self-effacing, but quite convinced that the 1960s would not have been nearly as melodious and wondrous had he not been around. Most of the fans in attendance would have agreed.
There is no point in reminding readers that his lyrics can verge on the nonsensical. The Scottish-born singer and musician has always held dear what he calls his Celtic roots, and currently resides in Ireland with longtime love Linda Lawrence and their children, and their children Astrella and Oriole.
In between songs, he told stories, which he assured us could be read greater detail in his book, and generally had the audience enraptured throughout most of the show.
Donovan is clearly happy to be back on the road. While he took a few songs to catch up vocally, he was in good form throughout and was keen to have the spotlight.
He sandwiched his set with the hits that most people came out for, but took a lengthy segue, going down the roads less traveled with his work from the 1970s onwards.
There is a reason Donovan fell out of favor with the times – he was so much a symbol of the swinging 60s that he has found his newer work falling on deaf ears. True, newer material did not capture the fun and fancy that most associate with Donovan.
Donovan grew both lyrically and musically in those; unfortunately, no one was around to hear it. Nowadays, he deserves the good showing at his concerts, as he gives a lot back.

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