This past Sunday January 24th I woke early to edit and load video on-line when I noticed a tweet from @DonovanOfficial that Donovan would be doing his first ever concert stream live from Germany at 8:30pm Central European Time. After some quick calculations I figured I had about 2 hours before the festivities began. Anyone that knows me personally knows Donovan is one of my all time favorite artists, second only to The Beatles, I jortled with joy. Touted as an evening with Donovan and Friends and that he’d be playing new songs I immediately called Mike Zarro to make sure he was aware, we spent the next hour or so discussing possibilities of the set, would the new songs be something due on the eagerly anticipated “Ritual Groove?” We discussed Don’s recent changes to his on-line presence and the likelihood that he’d finally hired some younger cats to bring him forward virtually into the new decade. No offense to Stewart Lawrence he makes a great road manager, bongo/conga player and brother-in-law to Donovan but his website was lacking until recently.
Personally I’ve seen Donovan perform live a dozen times, taking into account the frequency of his US tours, specifically east coast, by my musical calculus that’s equivalent to seeing Phish two hundred or so times. Between Mike and I we have around 400 bootlegs of Donovan material from classic concerts, interviews, international TV appearances and some we’ve recorded ourselves, I consider myself well versed in Don’s musical catalog, and live performances. Don took to the stage looking and sounding great. He’s let the hair rip again, its almost as long as mine, but it seems significantly less gray than last I’d seen him. Kelly looked beautiful, but has begun to show her age as any good troubadour’s guitar should, I sat back to enjoy the show and take notes as the stream began:
Enchanted Gypsy (A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, 1967)– Great version, with signature Celtic chants, not quite his standard set opener but played frequently.
Catch the Wind (Single, 1965)– One of his greatest hits and has resurfaced in commercials recently, pretty standard amongst his sets. Capoed 2nd fret, great flat picking throughout.
Try for the Sun (Fairytale, 1965)– Don gave a shout out to his best friend Gypsy Dave before breaking into a fantastic version detailing their travels as rambling boys in the 60s. Good minor surprise in the set, I’ve seen him perform it once before.
Ballad of Geraldine (Fairytale, 1965)– a Don staple live song, beautiful guitar tones, depressing lyrics, performed a great version heavy in the guitar work.
Universal Soldier (Fairytale (US version), 1965)– Sigh, cover song, I know its popular but I’d rather have heard one of his own anti-war songs like To Susan on the West Coast Waiting, rewritten for Afghanistan instead of Viet Nam, or The War Drags On (not just because my name is Dan). Donovan made the song famous, and the crowds seem to love it. ALWAYS played live.
Little White Road (HMS Donovan, 1971)– GREAT song, huge surprise. From HMS Donovan, an album that doesn’t get enough time during live sets (like most of his 70s work)
Jenifer Juniper (Single, 1968)– Good version, staple popular Donovan song played live all the time. Crowd loved it.
Donna, Donna (What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin hid, 1965) – Cover of a traditional Jewish song written during the Holocaust. GREAT inclusion in the set but I completely expected this performance with the concert in Germany.
Colours (Fairytale, 1965)– Great version, country blues feeling. Reminiscent of the version from Rainbow Quest with Pete Seeger. Never a surprise but always appreciated.
Two lovely hostesses took to the microphone and began talking of the Schools without Stress charity for which the concert was being held, Germany’s branch of The David Lynch Foundation. First and foremost I was flabbergasted by how many random Germans they snagged from the staff and audience that were fluent in English. I was intrigued and frustrated all at once, it echoed my idea that Americans are uncultured, and should be taught multiple languages from an early age. After a myriad of people commenting on the theater and concert they happened to grab Linda, Don’s wife for a chat. When asked her favorite example of her husband’s work she didn’t hesitate a second before naming 1996’s masterpiece “Sutras.” One of my personal favorites of Donovan’s and defiantly my favorite album ever produced by Rick Rubin. Nice choice Linda!
Sunshine Superman (Sunshine Superman, 1966)– Dedicated to his wife and muse Linda, Don played a great version that really got the crowd involved and singing along
Sunny Goodge Street (Fairytale, 1965)– I’ve read previously that this is McCartney’s favorite Donovan song. A great psudeo-surprise in the set, not a staple of his live performances but seems to be played frequently during solo acoustic sets. One of my personal favorites with which I relate.
Guinevere (Sunshine Superman, 1966)– Beautiful song about the legendary queen. Staple of his acoustic sets, slowly and methodically finger picked.
Wear Your Love Like Heaven (A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, 1967)- Another of Don’s classic hits and a staple of his set. Good version his voice sounded great.
Refuge of Love (Unreleased) – Described as a new song which brought a tear to my eye, as he’s been calling it such since 1995. He skipped the usual intro of going back to Florance to go to art school. Good version, very enchanting, was hoping for something from the upcoming album “Ritual Groove”
Josie (What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin hid, 1965)– Don broke out the harmonica for this earlier classic and tore it up. Another “song with a girl’s name” by Don’s description
Season of the Which (Sunshine Superman, 1966)– Described as David Lynch’s 2nd favorite song, Don played this classic. Not always played live but played quite often.
Sand and Foam (Mellow Yellow, 1967)– Beautiful song with great finger picking and an enchanting rhythm. Always a pleasant surprise when Donovan breaks out this number.
The Promise (Unreleased) – Forgoing the standard opening story of the song being half Scottish, half Irish, and half Donovan that was written to break Kelly when she was first made, Don just introduced the song as one he enjoyed playing live so much he will NEVER record it. Great version, fantastic flat picking throughout.
Happiness Runs (Barabajagal, 1969)– A round written with 3 parts to prompt the audience to sing along, Happiness Runs is a staple of most Donovan live sets and a great one at that. The audience helped with the men singing “La, La La, La, La La, La, La, La, La, La” and the women singing “Happiness Runs” while Don performed the verses. I provided my own off key La Las watching at home as well!
Isle of Islay (A Gift from a Flower to a Garden, 1967)– One of his softer, mellow acoustic numbers, at his poetic best. With the repeating driving rhythms it seems as though it was written for transcendental meditation.
Mellow Yellow (Mellow Yellow, 1967)– I don’t think there has been a show of Donovan’s in the past twenty years that didn’t feature this song. Satisfying the fair weather Donovan fans it was a good version, though so many other songs I’d love to hear live.
Lalena – Another softer love song featuring a girl’s name, played more frequently than not, good song but not one of my personal favorites.
Atlantis (Barabajagal, 1969)– Described as being astoundingly popular in Germany upon release, Don played my favorite of his popular main stream songs as an encore to close out the night. The stream featured Don delicately plucking his guitar during the spoken word intro, but went to the original track with full band when the crowd joined Donovan for the evocative “Hail Atlantis.” It was a cool feature as I’ve never seen Don perform the portion after the epic crescendo solo, though I would like to have heard what the guest cellist was playing.
It was great to see a Donovan performance, its few and far between he plays the New England area! Noticably abscent from the set was Hurdy Gurdy Man, but I was also stoked to see him play a live stream, it wasn’t noticed until afterward. Thanks to the team who helped prompt him into it as well as delivered on a fantastic experience. Don’s been ever increasingly in the public eye as of late, through his involvement with the David Lynch Foundation, and there’s even rumors that “Ritual Groove,” the LONG awaited follow-up to 2004’s “Beat Cafe,” is scheduled for release in March. Causing much jubilation in the Donoverse!