Psych-folk troubadour Donovan hit the stage at the Musical Instrument Museum last night for the second of two sold-out shows. His current tour is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of his Sunshine Superman record. That album’s title track was a number one U.S. hit, and the album itself contained other songs that became favorites, like "Season of the Witch."
When someone’s musical career, especially one that’s so vocally dependent, hits the 50-year mark, it’s natural that some will wonder about how they’re gonna sound. Face it, 50 years of regular singing doesn’t sound good on everyone. Donovan reminisced throughout the evening about Paul McCartney, his old mate from back in the day. And much like that Beatle, whose recent tour has been slaying crowds with his killer performances, Donovan’s voice still showcases its magic more than its age.
He came out on stage and assumed the position —his one position that he maintained the entire show – cross-legged atop a furry rug that sat on a riser at the front of the stage. He later explained that his style of performing comes from practicing the guitar in those early years “on cushions, or flat on our bloody backs with a guitar."
“Catch the Wind” kicked off the 20-song set that was predominately a tour through the hits and beloved favorites. It was a pretty subdued but happy crowd, who let out small roars at the front end of every song and serious applause at the ends. He did “Colours” second and invited the crowd to sing with him, which didn’t take much cajoling. Thankfully, the audience participation stayed limited to the times he invited the singalong. It’s one thing when you’re at a scream-y rock show, but with the MIM’s sit-down design and sharp acoustics, a couple exuberant lines of “Jennifer Juniper” from the dude behind you can dominate that venue – and probably never in a good way.
Donovan is a genuinely funny dude, and his love for humanity certainly is reflected in his songs as well as his personal pursuits, from spending time with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi decades ago and becoming a lifetime practitioner of transcendental meditation. A lot of times, Donovan will chat between songs about TM, but this time he spent his chat time telling some good stories about his early days in music, and those were as priceless as his delivery of tunes.
He had a bunch of great '60s stories; one involved Paul McCartney, when Paul popped by his place for an impromptu jam. Another good one involved playing a show and thinking there was a roof leak because his eyes were getting hit with water, only to eventually look in the front row and discover he was being blasted by squirt guns at the hands of Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey. The best was one about some post-show chaos after sharing a bill that included the Hollies, the Walker Brothers, a comedian, and a ventriloquist. He and his bandmate Gypsy Dave got chased by fans, Dave lost their hash stash, and Donovan ultimately crashed into Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits, who was also running from a different venue, fending off his own crazed fans. That one resulted in Donovan and Noone watching rock and roller Billy Fury in a little club. That’s the kinda dish you can’t help but eat up like the treat it was.
He played about 10 songs on either side of an intermission, with the second half showcasing a little more of his fun, trippy, and psychedelic sides with songs like the aforementioned “Season of the Witch,” “Atlantis,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and “Mellow Yellow.” His natural, signature vibrato still strong, he sent those waves rippling through many tunes, letting it thread through both his high and low ranges, creating a third layer that transcended his words and guitar. He wrapped up the night with “Mellow Yellow,” which he also turned into a singalong at his prompting. He then left the stage for less than a minute before returning to play “Atlantis” as the sole encore.
Catch the Wind
Remember the Alamo
Little Tin Soldier
There is a Mountain
The Trees They Grow So High
Wear Your Love Like Heaven
Hurdy Gurdy Man
To Try for the Sun
Season of the Witch
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Last Night: Donovan at the Musical Instrument Museum
Personal Bias: Giddy.
The crowd: People whose love for Donovan spans many decades.
Overheard in the crowd: Last time I saw Donovan, back in the '80s, I touched him and I stole his water glass and set it on my shrine.