Concord Music Hall
Jeremy Wagner
Lovers Lane

Donovan Live

| December 14, 2005 | 3 Comments

Donovan
Park West, Chicago
Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Outside of a brief run of chart hits in the ’60s, Donovan Leitch’s legacy has been as the archetype of prosaic, hippy pop. His wispy, English melodies and faux acid-trip imagery drew the ire of rock critics, consigning him to the dustbin and a happenstance association with a sugary soda.

Throughout his performance on Tuesday, however, Donovan alternated from being most certainly in-on-the-joke to reviving the larger-than-life folk guru his detractors deplore. It was a high-wire act that held interest in a “what’ll he say next” way, as opposed to doing anything for the carpet of minor hits he rolled out. One moment he’d pantomime puffing on a joint or mockingly overenunciate “Dig it, man,” but later he’d try to pump up his reputation with incessant name-dropping (“Buffy Sainte-Marie introduced me to Joan Baez who introduced me to Bob Dylan who introduced me to,” dramatic pause, “The Beatles”) or romanticizing leaving Scotland to challenge greed and corruption in his teens.

He did, after all, have a 40th anniversary to celebrate, a box set to push, and an autobiography to shill, all of which he did self-effacingly. In a rare candid moment, he admitted that while some musicians loathe expectations to play the hits, “I don’t. They are my life, they are some of your lives.” Too bad many of them aren’t alive. While technically playing songs off of Try For The Sun: The Journey Of Donovan, most of his set has been encapsulated on his many greatest hits packages, notably 1969’s definitive collection.

Opening with “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” he and his occasionally obstructive band seemed intent on projecting Donovan as more than an acoustic footnote, and did well to touch on some ’70s obscurities. Not so much “Cosmic Wheels,” which was introduced as being a song on an album “about things people still don’t understand,” but the minor-key “Slow Down World” showed uncanny introspection that might have helped his career resonate more if he hadn’t waited until the late ’70s to explore it.

Sifting through the hits, it was clear Donovan loves them all, though some lukewarm receptions to a handful laid bare which were relics (“Epistle To Dippy,” “Mellow Yellow”), which remain (“Sunshine Superman,” “Colours,” “Season Of The Witch”), and those he needs to better his performances of (“Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” “Catch The Wind,” “There Is A Mountain”).

Yet he never appeared exposed or deserving of the pasting he has endured for nearly all 40 of those years. He mused, “The greatest thing about a 40th anniversary? I’m still alive.” Hardly a noteworthy achievement, yet something a number of the people he boasted knowing (Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison) can’t claim. Legacies are for the dead.

Steve Forstneger

Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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Comments (3)

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  1. Mike says:

    Horrible review, do your homework before you rip into a legend like that. Listen to more then his greatest hits as you call minor hits. Having 2 number one singles and 13 top 40 is not minor by any means. Not to many in the hall of fame with those numbers. I think only fans should be allowed to write reviews because this is piss poor.

  2. Jim Schiller says:

    Donovan has been at least for me a journey in what can be, a glimpse into the world that was about to be — at least from the vantagepoint of 1964. I have seen him in Scotland, England and America; he has always presented a magical experience, even stopping the rain once before an outdoor show. (I still don’t know how he did that)

  3. Diana says:

    I was at Donovan’s concert in NYC last month and although you are entitled to your opinion I thought his concert was wonderful and brought back many memories of the voice I have loved since I was 12 years old. The concert was sold out, his autographed books sold out, and everyone loved it. He is a gentle man with beautiful songs.

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