FROM DYLAN-LIKE TO HIPPIE-DIPPYOne of the best scenes in Don't Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker's film covering Bob Dylan's 1965 concert tour of the United Kingdom (which is filled with great scenes, by the way), is the one in which Dylan meets Donovan.
A little perspective: At this point in Dylan's career, he is on top of the world, and it shows. This was the year that he's released two of his greatest albums, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. He's just gone electric for the first time. He's confident to the point of arrogance, toying with reporters who ask him inane questions--and some who don't. Basically, if he wasn't the charismatic, charming genius that is Bob Dylan, you might just write the guy off as an asshole.
But he is Bob Dylan, and he did write all those songs that forever changed music history.
During the film, Dylan is compared to Donovan, nee Donovan Leitch, the then-ascendant Scottish folk singer-songwriter who covered similar ground as Dylan in those days. Donovan had been praised in the press as a British Dylan, and at one point, someone mentions something to the effect that Donovan plays better than Dylan. Dylan is obviously irked by the comparisons.
Then, in what appears to be a hotel room, the two meet for the first time.
They are obviously intrigued by one another, and the scene is uncomfortable and electric. Donovan, who seems rather humbled by being in the same room as Dylan, performs a mannered, pretty version of his song "To Sing for You." Dylan seems to hate it. Then, Dylan takes the guitar and tosses off a barbed version of a barbed song he'd recently written: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Even if you've never seen the film, go back and look at the song titles again; that pretty much sums up the scene.
In those days, Donovan not only didn't seem to mind the comparisons (and why would he?), but he even seemed to embrace them. He dressed similar to Dylan; he wrote "this machine kills" on his guitar, a reference to Dylan's hero Woody Guthrie, whose guitar read "this machine kills facists"; and his early original songs, such as "Catch the Wind" and "Colours," bear more than a passing resemblance to Dylan's songs of the era. But then Donovan found his own voice, and things changed a bit.
Unlike Dylan, he embraced the hippie movement, and his songs reflected that. As great as they are, songs like "Sunshine Superman," "Atlantis," "Hurdy Gurdy Man," "Mellow Yellow," "Jennifer Juniper" and "Season of the Witch" are some of the most hippie-dippy things released in the '60s--and that's saying an awful lot.
But by the early '70s, the hits started drying up. He kept at it, releasing albums throughout the '70s and into the '80s, but nobody seemed to notice. In 1984, after the release of Lady of the Stars, he went on an extended hiatus during which he raised a family and focused on visual arts.
That break came to an end in 1996, when Rick Rubin attempted to revitalize his career à la Johnny Cash by producing what was intended to be his comeback album, Sutras. Though the album--with a return to the sound of his earlier, acoustic work--got some decent reviews, the intended comeback didn't happen. It would be another eight years before another proper Donovan album.
That would be 2004's Beat Café, an album recorded with a small combo including drummer Jim Keltner, Danny Thompson on upright bass and John Chelew on keyboards. (Chelew also produced the album.) While it may not have set the charts on fire, Beat Café was almost universally praised as the best work Donovan had done since the '60s. His songwriting was more mature but still retained the wide-eyed optimism that has always been one of his strengths. And last year, Donovan performed at the South by Southwest Music Conference, in Austin, in a performance that earned rave reviews. After that, he reportedly cancelled a U.K. tour due to poor health, but it appears he's doing better these days, as he'll bring his extensive catalog of songs to town this week.
An added bonus: The show's opener is Al Stewart, a fellow Scot whose career parallels Donovan's in certain ways. The singer-songwriter scored huge hits with "Year of the Cat" and "Time Passages" in the '70s, but was then effectively banned from releasing new material for several years due to a contract dispute. By the time he was again able to record, it seemed his creativity had run dry; 1984's Russians and Americans, the first of several albums he's released since, was a flop both commercially and artistically. But in 2005, he released A Beach Full of Shells, his first U.S. album in a decade, and it earned critical accolades, if not commercial ones.
Donovan performs a solo acoustic show on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. Al Stewart opens at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $32.50 and $45 at the Fox Web site and the Live Nation Web site. To charge by phone, call 547-3040.
RODRIGO Y GABRIELA, TAKE TWOAfter a spate of Tucson shows being cancelled last fall, at least one act is making good on its promise to make up the date (and I ain't talking 'bout you, Colbie Caillat).
Rodrigo y Gabriela, a pair of Mexican guitarists who now call Dublin home, will finally make it to Tucson for a show that is expected to sell out. The twosome's 2006 self-titled album (Rubyworks) has sold more than 200,000 copies--not bad for an acoustic-rock duo of former buskers raised on heavy metal.
In a September article in the Weekly previewing the postponed show, Gene Armstrong wrote, "Rodrigo y Gabriela developed a signature style built around (Rodrigo) Sanchez's furious finger-picking melodies and solos and (Gabriela) Quintero's aggressive rhythms, which she creates by both strumming and drumming on her guitar. The sound is that of rock music with a decided Latin flavor--it is neither flamenco nor mariachi nor bossa nova."
And, perhaps most interestingly, they incorporate a lot of metal-isms in their music, too, so when shredder bible Guitar World magazine proclaimed them "the hottest act the guitar-playing world has seen in years" last month, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise.
Get those tickets early for Rodrigo y Gabriela, who perform on Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. The consistently underrated Mother Hips open the all-ages show at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $25 (general admission on the floor; $27 on the day of show) and $28 (reserved seats in the balcony) at the venue's box office, online at the Rialto Web site or by calling 740-1000.
TWO DIFFERENT ALL-AGES EXPERIENCESWhile we're on the topic of concerts at the Rialto, we'd be remiss not to mention another fine pair of shows taking place there this week.
Former leader of the roots-rock band The Del Fuegos, Dan Zanes reinvented himself in 2001 as a performer of children's music, and he took the kiddie world by storm. Combining kid classics, traditional country tunes and his own songs, he now performs shows during the day, meant to be enjoyed by the whole family. If the word of mouth from his last Tucson appearance is any indication, the guy spreads joy wherever he goes.
Dan Zanes and Friends perform at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets for the (obviously) all-ages show are $21 and $23 (reserved seats on the floor) and $19 and $21 (reserved seats in the balcony), available at the Rialto box office, online at the Rialto Web site or by phone at 740-1000. Children younger than 3 are permitted to sit on laps.
Two days later, get up for the down stroke as George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic tear the roof off the sucker. The legendary Clinton has been releasing and changing music for the last 50 years, first in the 1950s as founder of the doo-wop group the Parliaments, then as leader of two different bands that featured the same members: the acid rockers Funkadelic, and the all-things-funk combo Parliament. He later became a solo artist. Though he's now in his late 60s, Clinton shows no sign of slowing down, touring consistently with a band that performs all the hits you know and love as the P-Funk All Stars.
George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars perform an all-ages show at the Rialto at 8 p.m., Monday, Feb. 11. Tickets are $29 in advance, $32 on the day of show. For more info, call 740-1000.